I have spent a lot of time blogging and thinking about honesty. I strive to be as honest as possible, every day. It’s harder than most people want to admit, and so easy to slip out little untruths, especially to our children.
One situation that’s particularly difficult (but, thankfully, doesn’t come up daily) is telling the truth to someone you care about when you know that the truth will hurt them, and potentially damage your relationship – perhaps forever.
Know what’s harder? Being on the receiving end of that truth. Some things are hard to hear, even when spoken in love.
I particularly like this blog post about this issue. After discussing the very real possibility that 10,000 Elvis fans CAN be wrong (Jews in the desert with Moses, anyone?), he goes on to quote Proverbs 12:15 (The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice) and many other verses. He then says, “After all, what is our goal? Is it to maintain every position intact, never grow, never realize that a thing can be handled better than we’d done in the past? Or is it to keep growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ, which necessarily involves what Luther’s first Thesis calls an ‘entire life… of repentance.'”
It is important, then, to listen to advice and criticism.
I think most people would agree to that without hesitation. So how come so many of us don’t? The problem is usually pride. Criticism hurts our pride. It bruises our ego. According to this post, “While it isn’t easy to swallow our pride, and admit that we’re wrong, we ought at the very least to realize that God puts certain people across our path for a reason. If we have the proper perspective, we ought to see our enemies as a gift from God, who provide a service free of charge: they point out all of our faults, and sometimes give suggestions on how to improve. The only problem is that many times, we are not looking or expecting to improve or change for the better. In our pride, we resist these reproofs.” And this is assuming that the criticism comes from an enemy, rather than a dear friend or relative.
All too often, we just don’t want to admit to ourselves that someone might be right in their criticism. We don’t like to dwell on our faults, or to seriously consider that we might need to make some changes in the way we do things, think about things, etc. – particularly big changes. We don’t like to admit when we’re wrong, and we don’t like to admit that someone else is right.
Add to this ego/pride problem the fact that change is scary. Another person offering constructive criticism implies that some level of change is necessary. Most people would honestly rather stick with something dysfunctional but familiar than change to something that’s less familiar but ultimately more functional. (Heck, I make this choice nearly every day with some of my Wallypop processes – I know they’re not working as well as other options might be, but changing them is overwhelming in terms of time and effort, so I stick with the dysfunction because it’s familiar.) Sometimes we see this with people in abusive relationships – they know the relationship is dysfunctional, but it’s familiar and oddly comforting in that regard.
The challenge, then, seems to be quieting our prideful egos enough to consider the possibility that criticism is accurate. (And it’s much more likely to be accurate, in my opinion, when it’s coming from someone we know well, trust, and love.) And then, after we’ve shut up that ego for a moment, we need to be willing to embrace the scariness that is change. That’s not easy. It’s not. It’s easier to tell the critic to shut it and to continue to live with things the way they are – comfortable, if not exactly completely functional. And that’s the path many of us choose a good deal of the time – much to our detriment, I suspect.
In the reading I did on this subject, this blog post struck me as the most interesting. If we’re running a race, and we stumble, and we hear sounds from the crowd, do we assume they’re encouraging us on, or do we assume they’re jeering? Similarly, when we hear those around us offering constructive criticism, do we assume they’re encouraging us in our journey through life, or do we assume they’re trying to discourage us?
Let’s be up front. I’m not the world’s best recipient of criticism, especially from those I’m close to. So this is not at all about me saying “oh, I’ve got this down perfect, learn from my example.” Absolutely not.
Also? This is relevant to many areas of my life right now, so nobody be all “she’s talking about me, I know it.” And, if you’re saying that to yourself, consider the possibility that what you’re really saying to yourself is that you need to hear what I’m saying.