Monday, 23 August 2010

A destructive word

A basic rule that I have tried to apply to any job or position that I have held is that when people criticise something or someone I tell them "If you can't offer a positive alternative then don't criticise!". Sometimes people have looked aghast, others have stomped off and some, the majority, have re-thought their comments and attitudes as they look for a positive approach. Usually it results in a constructive solution with practical, positive alternatives to help the person being criticised.
Criticism is cheap, it is the easiest thing to do and is often a result of things other than the fact the person, activity or plan is wrong. It can be that we simply don't like it or the person giving the idea or talk or whatever. Read the critics on theatre, food, books in the national press - many fear their comments because they can make or break a work and yet each work has merit but may not fit the pattern a particular critic likes to see. Their comments are often destructive.

Don't misunderstand when something or someone is wrong, it needs to be corrected or put right. But the method that we use to do that correcting makes a huge difference as does the attitude from which we do it. The aim of correction is not to break but to reconstruct, to provide a better way, an alternative or possibility that is accepted and acted upon. This does not happen if the person, who is the object of our correction feels destroyed, stamped on and discredited.
Recently I started reading through the Exodus story, one thing stood out - the number of times God produced the goods for the people - freedom from slavery, saved from Pharaohs army, given water, food, a new life, protected from roving Amalekites, shoes and clothes that don't wear out. How does it fit with critisicm?
Well every time the people were not happy the complained to Moses about the way he was leading, what God was not doing for them and the result eventually was that Moses was so cross with them that he wacks a rock instead of speaking to it to bring water out of and disobeys God's direction - he does not make it into the promised land because of this (Num 20:8-13). I notice that the people never offered an alternative except to return to Egypt!
Criticism is destructive unless it is done constructively, criticising Gods people and leaders is almost a way of life with some. But ask yourself, could I do better and if I could why am I not? God often chooses the weak, broken and useless things (1Cor 1:27-28) -  (people) and transforms them and because they are who they are they follow him completely without questioning every direction and opportunity that he gives. They honour their call, so when we think they have got it wrong or we disagree with them, find a positive and affirming way to talk with them.

It works both ways of course and church leaders need to follow the same guidelines and avoid cutting people down because they disagree or have an alternative opinion. None of us are right all of the time and most of us are right only some of the time.

Don't destroy with words and cover it with the euphemism "of course I only tell you this in love!". Love first and think before talking and criticising.

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