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No one likes to be criticized.

We spend a great deal of time and effort covering our faults. We hope the world around us sees and experiences the best version of ourselves at every turn. We don’t want to make mistakes.

At the same time, we know we are broken creatures. For every fault we conceal, another rises to the surface. We find ourselves exposing the worst versions of ourselves – often to those we love the most. Our words can hit targets at which we never aimed. Maybe a tone is perceived wrong. Perhaps we brought up an issue in innocence that is tender to another. Maybe we forgot.

Despite our best efforts, we do make mistakes.

We live in a social economy in which criticism is a currency. Social media allows us to fire shots across bows we likely would never approach in person. Anonymous jesters fire criticism and critique without provocation. Beating someone else to the punch is considered of higher virtue than taking the time to ensure the punch is well-placed or even necessary.

Not all criticism is beneficial. Not all critics are right. At the same time, as sinful social people, we do need correction from others. Warranted or unwarranted, each of us will face critics and criticism. So how should we handle them?

1. Listen to your critic

If you immediately shut down a critic, you are assuming you have no blind spots or areas of improvement. Criticism is not always bad. In fact, many proverbs speak favorably of criticism from those who care for us. Listening reflectively to criticism allows an offended party to be heard and offers us the opportunity to open a door of self-examination, perhaps previously unconsidered. Don’t shut the door on every critic. There are some you need to invite in.

2. Appreciate your critic

Usually, someone seeking to bring an issue to our attention does so with a good motive. They may not handle it well or express it in a way that prevents a sting. Looking beyond the words of a critic, however, allows us to see the heart behind the criticism. We want to be and do what is best. A critic likely wants that for us as well. Seek to appreciate the heart behind someone’s criticism, even if you don’t appreciate the content.

3. Evaluate the criticism

Even if a critic does have an uncharitable disposition toward you, they may not be wrong in their criticism. Recognize that we all have blind spots, and however poorly a person may have handled a critique, ask yourself and someone else you trust whether or not there is something valuable in a criticism for you to address. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. You may dismiss a critic, but don’t completely discount their perspective. 

4. Apply the criticism

Criticisms can have many applications. They may serve to show us a sin of which we need to repent. They may help open our eyes to another’s perspective. They may simply reveal a fault of the critic themselves. Either way, receiving criticism never ends in merely hearing it. One must ask what there is to gain from receiving criticism.

Some critics just want to hurt others. They are jerks.

Some critics want our good, but don’t handle it well. They are trying.

Some critics we welcome, knowing they have our best at heart and have been given access to our lives as those with a valuable perspective. They are friends.

Criticism can sting. Our gut reaction is often to label any critic as a jerk when they may genuinely be trying to be a friend. Don’t be quick to dismiss criticism. Prayerfully listen, appreciate, evaluate and apply what others afford us from their perspective. It just may do us some good.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” – Proverbs 27:6