A Gathering Voices Post by Lara Blackwood Pickrel
Earlier this week I ran across some reviews for a book that I helped edit a couple years ago. Though the majority of those reviews were four star or better, the comments that commanded my attention were the negative ones. Those reviews I read over and over again - unconsciously committing them to memory. Indeed, I absorbed those words so completely that while sitting here typing new ones, I can still recite a handful of readers' opinions of me and my work verbatim.
And what of the positive reviews? Even though those were typically longer, more thoughtful (interacting with ideas instead of attacking my co-editor and me personally) and even ego-fanning, aside from a few very general ideas, I can't tell you what they said. It's almost as though the positive reviews had never been written.
Yes, I really do realize that dwelling on the haters is no healthier that focusing exclusively on accolades. But in moments like this I'm also coming to realize that there are certain truths about myself that could only be discovered in the face of this kind of criticism.
For example, in my day to day life, it has been fairly easy to convince myself that I've moved beyond a childhood desire to please people and be liked. Sure, sometimes after sharing hard truths with a congregation member, I've stolen a moment for a good cry - but I'd dismissed that wave of emotion as simply a matter of discomfort caused by conflict. It really had nothing to do with the fear that someone wouldn't like me, right?
Wrong. As it turns out, it has a great deal to do with that fear.
There's something both real and raw about criticism (especially written, public criticism) - something so unavoidable that you (or at least I) can't help but react, if only for a moment. And I'm finding that initial knee-jerk reaction instructive.
Some people's first instinct is to write the critic off as someone who doesn't understand what they have said or written - but that is actually my second reaction. Personally, my default reaction is to take those words to heart, no matter how mean-spirited or vitriolic they may be. Hoping to be understood and liked, stripped down to my most vulnerable self, I have no filter to protect me. If only for a few seconds, I believe the critics...and THEN that protective filter snaps back into place and I write them off. If I'm having a really good and disciplined day, I then go back and review the criticism - and decide which parts might be valid. But some days I never get to that third step.
Admitting this has nothing to do with a desire for sympathy. That is what private conversations with friends are for. It also is not to say that all criticism is warranted or right. Instead, the point of this is to say that in the face of criticism (no matter how hateful or well-intentioned), we have an opportunity to glimpse what we are made of, what lies beneath the put-together facades that some of us have begun to believe about ourselves.
Opened up to criticism, I am forced to acknowledge that I care deeply about what others think of me. It pains me when others question my motives or assume the worst of me. But knowing this, accepting this about myself is a good thing. I won't change what I write in order to seek approval from those critics. Instead, I'll remember this feeling when I open my mouth or stretch fingers toward keys, ready to leave someone else an equally harsh review.
Inadvertently, my critics are teaching me to be kind. And though kindness (to myself and others) may not be the lesson some of the "haters" might have wanted me to learn, I have learned it from them nonetheless.
- When looking back on feedback from the past, do you primarily remember the positive or the negative?
- What motivates you to criticize others?
- When faced with criticism, what have you learned about yourself?
- In your experience, are Christians (or particular styles of Christians) generally more or less critical of others?