Criticism is a constant companion of leaders – and I don’t like it! Not one bit! When someone questions my actions, motives, words, theology, or criticizes my ideas, leadership, friends, family or activities, I swing from anger to self-pity.
I have found wisdom in the writings of Tim Keller, who found wisdom in the writings of John Newton (author of Amazing Grace), who found wisdom in the writing of someone else.
Recently several people have asked me ‘how do you deal with harsh criticism?’ In each case, the inquirer had felt stung by what they felt were unfair attacks on him or her. In this internet age, anyone can have their views censured unfairly by people they don’t know. So what do you do when that happens? Here’s is the gist of the counsel I give people when they ask me about this. For years I’ve been guided by a letter by John Newton that is usually entitled “On Controversy.”
The biggest danger of receiving criticism is not to your reputation, but to your heart. You feel the injustice of it and feel sorry for yourself, and it tempts you to despise not only the critic, but the entire group of people from which they come. “Those people…” you mutter under your breath. All this can make you prouder over time. Newton writes: “Whatever…makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.” He argues that whenever contempt and superiority accompany our thoughts, it is a sign that “the doctrines of grace” are operating in our life “as mere notions and speculations” with “no salutary influence upon [our] conduct.”
So how can you avoid this temptation?
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