Vaughan Roberts, in his new brilliant little book on Friendship, makes the point that in our relationships, particularly friendships, it is vital that we learn to respond well to criticism.
He cites retired minister Jonathan Fletcher, who suggests a three-point approach:
1. “Expect it: given our sins and weaknesses, we should be surprised we receive so little criticism.”
Perhaps sadly my default is to cultivate friendships where a word of challenge is the exception rather than the norm. Perhaps it’s even an exception that, upon occurrence, I equate with being out of order for a normal relationships, and so I effectively reject it. Instead, surely I should want those who know me best to be able to speak truth to me frankly? More than that, as a fallen human creature, I should be well aware that I’m more than ripe ground for growth and change! What theology of myself am I practically believing when I deflect challenge, believing I don’t need it?
2. “Examine it: we should resist the instinctive temptation to defend ourselves or attack the critic, but rather consider whether there is truth in what is being said.”
I’ll be honest, I find challenging people hard, especially when it’s people I want to please. Although some people’s personalities will probably find it easier than others, my guess is that generally it’s something that we’re not very good at. And so, given the courage it has taken on behalf of the speaker to get to the point of sharing it, how crazy to then not even reflect upon it! Even if there’s just a grain of truth in the criticism, then I need to battle my pride and take on board that word, examine it and allow it to shape me as necessary.
3. “Endure it: even when we feel it is unfair, we must not be resentful.”
I notice in my heart that sometimes when I receive criticism, my defence mechanism is to effectively annul the criticism by discrediting the speaker. Perhaps I’ll call into question where they’re coming from (‘yeah, but they would say that’), or the validity of their perspective on me (‘how can they say that?’). But am I so proud that I cannot take on board a criticism, without feeling I have to dismiss the challenger, publicly trying to maintain that they were in the wrong? Surely such a defensive mindset makes clear that, even if the challenger has misunderstood my motives or spoken out of turn, my own heart is far from pure. Can I not trust that the friend was speaking with pure motives for my good?
Taken from Jonathan Fletcher, Dear Friends: Selected writings of Jonathan Fletcher (UK: Lost Coin Books, 2012), p. 49 – available here.
How do you respond to criticism? How do you ensure you learn from it?