Alongside or Against

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the

strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred

by dust and sweat and blood.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

Criticism.  There is the good, the bad and the ugly.  Probably a lot more of the bad and the ugly.  Sometimes rather than being helpful, criticism can belittle, harm, discourage, or be judgmental instead of helpful.  This is destructive rather than constructive criticism, which tears down rather than building up a person.

When I read this quote yesterday, I thought of how sometimes we can wish to have the high opinions of those who merely point out our mistakes in destructive ways, instead of listening and attributing greater importance to the words of those who strive to make us better.  This is constructive versus destructive criticism.  One is concerned with another’s well-being, and the other only with being right.  Most importantly, negative criticism seeks, in the truest sense of the word, to judge, express disapproval, and find fault in something.  Positive criticism, in the grace-linked sense of the word, means to see something accurately, but to seek to see that same thing at its best: and to further it toward that end.  Negative criticism has little power to actually improve a man.  It can be soul-erosive and fear-giving.  Positive criticism, on the other hand, can be freeing and strength-giving.

Often we can latch onto the negative words of others, and this can skew our vision.  One of the greatest ways one’s vision can be skewed is by attributing less importance to God’s view of life than man’s.  Christ behaves differently than the image I have described of destructive criticism.  One of the ways that His behavior is different is that He fights our battles alongside us.  He came to the world not to condemn, but to rescue.  He has born the scars of fighting for us in the “arena” – the torment of the cross – and it is His face which was marred by dust, sweat and blood.  While this image is an especially gruesome one, there are less gory examples of those who “fight” alongside us every day.

Think of teachers who try to draw out students’ potentials, even when they make mistakes.  Students that really want to learn are inspired by such teachers to do better, not necessarily because the students are gifted or possess great talent, but because their teachers see something in them and believe that the students are capable of something that the students may not see.  The teachers want to work alongside the students, encouraging and uplifting them.  Analysis of mistakes from such a teacher could almost always be trusted, because the students’ best interests are in mind.  The teacher desires not just to point out what is wrong, but to point out how the student could do better.

Sticking with the example of teachers, it would be easy for some teachers to become impatient, frustrated, or resort to cursing, violence, belittling a student, ignoring a student, or giving up on him or her.  Through my college studies, I have had both kinds of teachers: those who could be said to love their students and those for which the opposite could be said (why such persons would become teachers, I will never understand..) – guess which sets of students tended to be most successful?  If you guessed the classes with teachers who believed in their students, you are right. 😉  Such teachers have made parts of my college experience truly invaluable.

Knowing the difference- not only in words but in motivation- behind positive and negative criticism should inspire us and compel us to listen to those words that not only are knowing of our faults, but loving in spite of them.  God loves us and not only wants us to be at our best and to help us toward that goal, but to be with us, even in our messes and mistakes.  He’s loved you for all time.  If you are a believer, He loved you before you accepted His grace.  He loved you while you were still full of flaws.  How does this change your view of criticism?  What does positive criticism look like to you as opposed to negative?

~ Hannah K.

Note: I feel that I should note that it is okay to become angry at ills in the world, such as when someone deliberately desecrates that which is holy (think Jesus overturning the money-changers’ tables in the temple), but some people take Biblical events such as this entirely out of context, and think that it means that we are justified in expressing our anger toward anyone who shows signs of imperfection.  I am not talking in this article about outright defiance of following God, as opposed to striving (and failing) to be perfect.  That is different subject matter entirely.

Art Credit: Penelope.  In Penelope, a young woman is criticized because of a “deformity” that she was born with.  

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