Picture the most obnoxious person you know. The one who exasperates you and puts dangerous words on the tip of your tongue. If you will, you can learn something from that person–even beyond things you want to avoid doing because of his bad example. It takes more maturity than most people have, but it is possible to learn helpful things from the most unhelpful person. If not, why did God put that person in your life?
In my book Two Sides to Everything Josh fleshes out this principle. That protagonist has been challenging this author ever since he came to life on the pages of my book. It isn’t easy to learn from people with flagrant flaws who express criticism in the least sensitive ways. It means listening to learn, weighing thoughts before dismissing them, and viewing things fairly from another perspective. Skills like that are quickly becoming a dying art, yet how we need them!
In the TV show from the 1980’s Perfect Strangers, immigrant Balki tells his American cousin Larry, “On Mipos when someone points out a flaw in our lives we thank him for helping us to experience personal growth.” Larry’s reply: “Well, this is America, and in America we shy away from personal growth.”
Of course, criticism is an even more useful tool if the person offering it does so kindly and constructively. Even then most of us are quick to defend ourselves, and slow to learn from it. All of us need to be open to feedback. If we can take an honest look at our weaknesses, we can overcome them and experience personal growth.
As writers, when we put our passions into print, each manuscript can become a precious child, an extension of ourselves. It hurts to see it criticized. Our friends know enough to defend its good qualities and overlook the bad. This makes us feel good about ourselves, but it doesn’t improve our writing. We need to treasure the true friends who will kindly offer constructive criticism.
Imagine the editor who reads manuscripts all day long, and has to reject most of them. Far from being the meanie we make her out to be, she must quickly tire of returning standard rejection slips which she knows will disappoint writers and ruin their day. Overworked and barely keeping up with her schedule, she can hardly do more. On occasion she takes the time to offer a few very helpful words. If the writer bristles at the criticism, the editor will take the easy way out next time and just send the standard letter. But the wise writer will treasure knowledgeable criticism and learn from it.
As Christian workers we gain insight from our experience. We know “what works” and sometimes we are slow to change. We can learn, however, from even a new Christian who sees our ministry from a fresh perspective. We may be ready to teach others, but we also have to be ready to learn from others.
We usually learn more from criticism than praise, but happily, we can profit from positive feedback as well as negative when it is specific enough to give clear direction.
Today my prayer for myself and all of us is that we will learn to profit from constructive criticism and look for ways to encourage each other with positive feedback.