Last night, I was pondering the topic of criticism and what part it plays in our lives. I can’t remember meeting anyone who enjoys criticism. Some people seek it out simply so they can know how to improve various areas of their lives. Whereas, there are some people who don’t like hearing how they can improve their lives, but after reflection, implement changes as a result of having someone point out a fault. Then, there are those who cannot seem to handle criticism at all.
There is nothing fun about being told you aren’t perfect. Let’s face it – we all want to believe that our way is best. It is easy to see the blinding faults in others and not as easy to see the same faults in ourselves. Countless times I have considered myself a victim of someone else’s wrongdoing only to make the same mistake toward another person within minutes of condemning someone else. This is especially true when I’m driving. ~smile~
One of the shows Eric and I love to watch together is Kitchen Nightmares. This is a FOX reality show where Gordon Ramsay, food expert and chef, travels to restaurants that are on the verge of closing and attempts to help them get their businesses back on track. While I understand that there is a lot about reality television that is anything but reality, there is one feature that seems to be identical across all the restaurants he’s visited: whether it is the owner, chef, or manager (or all three), someone involved is always resistant to criticism and change.
Chef Ramsay usually begins his time at each establishment by ordering a few things off the menu and tasting them. After tasting the food and telling us all what is wrong with each dish, if Chef Ramsay does not head to the bathroom to throw up, he goes to the kitchen to discuss the meal with the head chef and owner(s). Whoever among them is in denial usually fights Chef Ramsay at every turn. They claim that the food is good and that there is nothing wrong with the way the restaurant operates. Those of us at home are thinking, “Did they not call him and ask for his help? Why are they so resistant to hearing the truth if it will make them better?”
In most episodes, after a little time passes, the resistant person is willing to try Chef Ramsay’s suggestions and almost every time he or she loves the changes. The criticism hurt in the beginning (and Gordon Ramsay is not one to sugar coat his words); but in the end, it often saves their businesses.
Criticism is necessary and good when it is done in the right spirit for the right reasons. When I was a child, a young lady at our church loved to go around telling people that their clothes didn’t match. Perhaps she was just trying to be helpful, but at nine years old, I simply did not appreciate her unsolicited fashion advice. One Sunday night, I vividly remember seeing her shoes shining brightly across the church and, as far as I could tell, they did not match her dress. So, I began mouthing the words YOUR SHOES DON’T MATCH YOUR DRESS at her. She mouthed back YES THEY DO. We were both on front rows, so I’m sure we caught our share of attention with our war of words. The point of my criticism of her clothes was to make her mad and to embarrass her which are obviously not good reasons to criticize.
Then, there is helpful criticism. The kind that is hard, but necessary. This is the criticism that is shared solely to help someone improve, which is usually called constructive criticism. When someone first confronts you about something in your life he or she thinks you should change, constructive criticism can feel just as hurtful as random criticism. It attacks our pride and can set us on the defensive. However, when we choose to handle it maturely, we can stand to gain so much by evaluating other’s ideas and implementing change in our lives.
Any good marriage can expect some level of constructive criticism. When Eric gives me suggestions of how to change areas of my life, I don’t usually like hearing them; but, after the dust settles, I appreciate having the opportunity to improve. When suggestions are made in love, and in private, they are usually easier to swallow.
Remember, when you are offering constructive criticism, especially to your future mate, be sure to do it respectfully. If at all possible (and it often is), do it in private. Have examples ready, but don’t fire them off in an overwhelming way. Have them available and use them only if he or she needs to understand what you are saying more clearly. Shooting off examples of his or her failure will not get you where you want to go in your conversation. If your words offend them at first, that’s okay. You may need to leave the room and give the person some space after confronting him or her. Don’t become counter-defensive if they become defensive towards you. These refining moments are not fun, but they are necessary.
You are not the Holy Spirit… remember this when you are confronting others. They may not react to your suggestions well, but as long as you have prayerfully, respectfully, and necessarily spoken to them, you can wait on the Lord to do the rest – and it’s not up to you anyway. If this is an area of change that they need to tackle, the Holy Spirit can convict and pursue them at this point. Nagging is unnecessary and counterproductive.
If you are not good at accepting criticism, purposely create an opportunity to have those whom you love and trust speak into your life without fear of retribution. Ask them to give you some constructive criticism on areas in your life where you can improve. Then evaluate what they say and implement or discard. It’s a good idea to go through an evaluation like this every so often in order to maintain a good internal and external perspective.
So, can criticism be good for your relationship? Yes – when it is done out of love, support, concern, and respect.
How do you handle criticism? Do you completely ignore it, or do you use it to improve your life? How do you treat others when you are sharing your criticisms with them? Is this an area where you need to make some changes?