Tag Archives: Critical

The Critical Discernment of Criticism

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord.
2 Kings 19:14 (NIV)

When we left the story yesterday, the commander of the invading Assyrian army was talking smack at the gates of Jerusalem. The intent was the same then as it is today with smack talking on the athletic field, the playground, corporate offices, or elsewhere. The goal is to get inside the other person’s head, create doubt, instill fear, and win the psychological battle.

Over the past couple of years I’ve had the opportunity of working with a wonderful group of people in my local gathering of Jesus followers. These individuals are actively working to develop their gifts and abilities at communicating God’s Message in front of a large group of people. I have enjoyed the privilege of helping mentor them in their development.

Every communicator who regularly stands in front of a group of listeners must at some point confront unwarranted criticism. I encounter the occasional denier who shuns all criticism. I had someone who once told me, “the root word of ‘criticism’ is ‘critical’ which is inherently negative.” I chose not to respond, knowing that I was speaking to a person whose heart and ears were closed to the fact that “critical” is also defined as “skillful judgment” and “decisive importance.” Most individuals understand that fair, knowledgable, and objective criticism is a crucial ingredient to improvement.

I’ve come to understand, however, that some unwarranted criticism you receive is a lot like smack talking. Smack talking critics can be identified by their intent, and that’s where discernment is required. Their criticism is not an honest and loving response intended to help the recipient (as much as they will claim that it is). Their criticism is an emotional gut reaction intended to defend something that has been stirred or threatened within themselves.

In this morning’s chapter, I found King Hezekiah’s response to the Assyrian threats fascinating. He immediately took the text of the threats to the temple, to the prophet Isaiah, and “spread it out before the Lord.” What a great word picture. Hezekiah didn’t eat the words and let them sicken his thoughts. He didn’t completely and foolishly dismiss the words and the threat. His actions were a measured and calculated response. He “spread them out” with a desire to get a good, objective look, wise counsel, and divine wisdom. What is true? What is not true? What is the intent of the message? What should I take from this? What should I ignore?

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the amazing story that plays out in the rest of the chapter. The “word of the Lord” through Isaiah was that God was going to deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrians. Over night the Assyrian army was miraculously decimated and forced to withdraw. This was a historical event about which speculation and theories still abound.

This morning I’m reminded of my need of criticism, and the equal need to learn discernment with the unsolicited feedback I receive from others. I need to recognize and dismiss the misguided smack talk of people unconsciously reacting out of their own stuff. I also need to seek out and embrace the wise, honest and helpful reflections from those who love me and desire my continued, healthy development. It’s not just a good thing, it’s critical to the process of my maturity.

Everyone’s a Critic (and, Appropriately, Should Be)

2013 05 04 Dominies WifeTo one who listens, valid criticism
    is like a gold earring or other gold jewelry.
Proverbs 25:12 (NLT)

A little over a year ago I wrote a blog post entitled 10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success. The post went viral and has found its way into some very interesting places, for which I’m both surprised and grateful. That post sprang to mind this morning as I read the proverb above.

One of the most important lessons I learned being a theatre major (one, that for some reason, didn’t make my list) was the ability to accept and provide appropriate criticism. My theatre prof taught us to solicit criticism as actors. He once told us, “never blindly accept when a person tells you ‘you did a good job.’ Always ask ‘what exactly did you find good about it?'” If you did something well you need to understand what it was so that you can repeat it. If you missed the mark in some way, you need to know that too. How can we improve unless some one can observe and provide us with appropriate feedback?

Last weekend Wendy and I performed in a one-act play at the Pella Opera House for the local Tulip Time festival. With each show our director provided me with valid and crucial piece of criticism. Before opening night she told me that with one long line in which I explode in anger I had exploded too soon in the previous dress rehearsal and peaked out early in the line rather than building to the explosion. She was right. Before another performance she told me that I’d allowed too much dead air before another actor’s entrance and needed to fill it with a line. She was right. Rather than getting defensive and feeling like her criticism was inherently negative and destructive, I embraced what she was telling me. Her criticism, even in the late stages of production, allowed me to improve my individual performance and the overall quality of the show.

Looking back over the years I realize that seeing and thinking critically has been a crucial part of the successes I’ve experienced along life’s road. Having the character to weigh and accept criticism of others, and learning to provide valid, useful criticism to others is a tremendously important component of growth, maturity and wholeness.

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