Have you ever dusted your fine china with a 20 pound sledge? Nope, me neither. Although, I think, on some days, we talk to each other like this. Our critical words and the tone of our voice smashes into another person leaving them bewildered and broken. With good intentions we thought our instruction would bring the other person to a better place. Instead, they are left in a swirling mass of confusion, pain, and rejection. Their spirit has been broken.
Here's another one, have you ever busted rocks with a feather duster? No again! Constructive criticism by definition is to be concise, helpful, and done with love and concern for the other person. It needs to have impact. Yet, these words need to cradle the other person's soul. There are opportunities to speak truth into another life and we timidly decline to say anything. The other person goes on their merry way and ends up suffering confusion, pain, and rejection. Their spirit has been broken.
Lamin Sanneh, in his book, "Whose Religion is Christianity?: The Gospel Beyond the West. offered these words above regarding the reception of criticisms. Sanneh, is a D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity and professor of history at Yale Divinity School. He comes highly credentialed and a leading voice in missiology. Yet, here, he acknowledges things learned from his students. Students by definition come to sit in Sanneh's class and learn from him. A strange event occurs when we all remain open to be taught new things, even from those who are subordinate in nature.
Perhaps the most difficult thing I deal with on a daily basis is considering how to respond to others. Do I have any authority to come alongside them and speak loving truth into their lives? Can I share insights with others that will help them all the while being open to constructive criticisms that will help me grow? I guess the old adage, "Blessed are the flexible; for they shall not be broken." holds true. As a pastor, I carry the responsibility to offer constructive criticisms as well as receive them. In both cases, I get to experience growth in my own life.
I think this is a growing edge for all of humanity. Listening is a lost virtue and critical thinking has been set aside and replaced with volatile reactionary explosions. A fine balance must be struck between dusting fine china with a 20 pound sledge and busting rocks with a feather duster.
Lamin Sanneh is a willing participant in a lifelong practice of learning no matter the source of knowledge. His students may sit in awe of Sanneh, yet Sanneh basks in the insights from fledgling divinity students.
Are you critical of others? Do you come across like a 20 pound sledge?
Are you concerned for others but never approach them to help guide them? Are you busting rocks with a feather duster?
Pledge to strike a balance between these competing tensions and find ways to speak truth in love to those around you. Be open to hear the words of others and see if maybe, just maybe, their words would be helpful if you would follow their advice. Constructive criticism is a medicine we rarely enjoy receiving. Giving it can also be tough. In both cases, one's soul hangs in the balance.
"My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back,
remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over
a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20, NIV)