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Handling criticism

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It seems no matter what our station in life we are bound to be the object of criticism at some point. Perhaps you are a teacher whom parents criticize their teaching style. Maybe you are a sports coach who is criticized for making the wrong call at a crucial point in the game. Priests and bishops are not immune to the cries of the faithful critics in their flock. Local politicians are often the target of criticism if their decisions are not met with the approval of all. In all cases this criticism can be something similar to a loud gong during a silent night, hard to ignore and even harder to silence.

There is a story I recently stumbled upon that I would like to share. It sets up our discussion today nicely.

Once there was a politician who did the best job he could. But being human he made mistakes and was criticized. Reporters wrote about his errors in the newspaper. Well, he became so upset that he drove out into the country to visit his dear friend a farmer. “What am I going to do?” the politician asked. “I’ve tried so hard. Nobody has tried harder than I have to do more good for more people, and look how they criticize me!”

But the old farmer could hardly hear the complaint of his persecuted friend because his hound dog was barking up a storm at the full moon. The farmer rebuked his dog, but the dog kept barking. Finally, the farmer said to the politician. “Do you want to know how you should handle your unfair critics? Here’s how. Listen to that dog; now, look up at the moon. And remember that people will keep yelling at you. They’ll nip at your heels, and they’ll criticize you. But here’s the lesson: The dog keeps howling, but the moon keeps shining!”

Now that may sound harder than it seems. When we face the wrath of critics, whether their basis is just or unjust, the loud voices are pretty hard to ignore. We have all been there, I know I have.

Five tips for handling criticism

Patrick Coffin at Catholic Answers last year offered his Five Tips for Handling Criticism. I would like to expand upon those suggestions Patrick provided. What follows are those five tips with commentary of my own.

1 – Unless your detractor is a rank sadist who just wants to unload on you (these folks do exist), chances are good that the criticism contains a nugget of truth. We are not perfect and we are all bound to make mistakes. Don’t be prideful and ignore the fact that you could have possibly made a mistake, maybe even a big one. Not only do we need to accept that ourselves, but we can hope that our detractors are humble enough to realize they are not perfect either.

2 – Utterly refuse to let the negativity live inside your head. They say we are what we eat and in this case we are what we consume. When we allow the venom of a relentless critic into our heads it will poison us and influence our reaction. Often this leads to a downward spiral of “gotcha” moments that are not beneficial to anyone.

3 – Say a quick prayer for your critic. This is a very tough suggestion but a valuable one just the same. We are called to forgive and to reflect mercy. What better way to do that than to take the high ground and pray for a detractor?

4 – Bear in mind that the only opinion that really matters is God’s. Honestly, in every decision made here on Earth who is ultimately our boss. What is that one authority figure who knows what our intent was with every decision we make. The answer is God and if we are right with God in our decision, who else matters?

5 – Remember that your critic’s “persecution” might be a confirmatory sign of your own fidelity to Christ and his Church. Let’s face there are those in the world today that are going to try to play religion against us. They assume, incorrectly, that having faith means we are incapable of mistakes.  I have actually experienced those that look for any reason to use my Catholic faith against me. I’m sure many have heard the line, “If you’re such a great Catholic……” In the words of A.W. Tozer: “To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.”

Our role as receivers

Our job is to remain the shining moon while the dogs are howling at us. Reflect the love of Christ. Drown your detractors in kindness and do not stoop to their level.  The best reaction I have found is to not react at all. In fact, this does two things. First it diffuses the situation. Secondly, they are likely looking for a reaction and when they do not receive one they are unsure of what to do.

Our response is key to the entire situation. You have to come to realize, and it took me a while to do so, that we are in control of the situation not our critics. How we react is a reflection on our character, not theirs.

The way we respond to criticism pretty much depends on the way we respond to praise. If praise humbles us, then criticism will build us up. But if praise inflates us, then criticism will crush us; and both responses lead to our defeat. – Warren Wiersbe

The saints guide us in all things

Saint Peter Claver had a most unique way of looking at his critics. He spent his life working in South America ministering to the physical and spiritual needs of black slaves. For his efforts he received bitter and strong criticism from the slave owners. He had this to say:

“The humble ass is my model. When he is evilly spoken of, he is dumb. Whatever happens, he never complains, for he is only an ass. So also must be God’s servants.”

A saint closer to our own times, Saint Josemaría Escrivá, had this to say about criticism:

To criticize, to destroy, is not difficult; any unskilled laborer knows how to drive his pick into the noble and finely hewn stone of a cathedral. To construct: that is what requires the skill of a master.”

Let us be the master builders. Let us construct and not destroy. Let our critics sow the seeds of hatred, lies and deceit while we pray, show mercy and mirror the truth. Don’t get me wrong this is a difficult task to achieve, but in the end what do we have to lose?

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