Criticism is a kill-joy, even when it’s not personally directed at us. As a kid, I remember feeling slightly wounded when my mother criticized our neighbors for buying a house they couldn’t afford to furnish. They had a big house with indefinitely empty rooms. I understood my mom (she worked awfully hard to beautify our home on a budget), but it was a downer to hear her diss the neighbors. Children just want everyone to get along and criticism tends to divide. Adults actually want the same thing, but we forget.
I grew up to be not exactly critical, but opinionated. Highly opinionated. Passionately opinionated. Yesterday, when I started telling an acquaintance how I dislike the sound-effects-on-steroids in movie theaters today, my daughter rolled her eyes.
“Why do you roll your eyes whenever I start talking to other adults?” I asked her.
“Because you come on so strong,” she answered, “and sometimes it sounds like you are criticizing people.”
Wow. This is a clear sign from my twelve-year-old who often answers with “I don’t know.”
The more I think about it, the more I see the importance—and challenge—of sharing one’s viewpoint with grace. I will always have opinions, but I need to learn how to deliver them gently, trying very hard to keep my words from sounding critical.
As an aside, this didn’t seem so necessary when I was a petite twenty-something single living in New York City. If I was feisty, it was considered harmless, maybe even cute. But now in my forties in suburbia, if I express ideas too intensely, I can scare people, if not offend and distance them.
Someone once told me, “You should never offer unsolicited advice to another adult. If you want to give your opinion, ask first if the other person wants to hear it and then proceed with caution.” This is great (and ironically unsolicited) advice about advice, but with zero success implementing it, I’m beginning to doubt it is humanly possible.
Presently, I have two strategies for being a fully opinionated person with grace:
First, be a blogger. Blogging is the perfect solution for people who want to let their thoughts be known without running at the mouth. Some bloggers don’t do this of course, but I’m advocating blogging where words are composed with care, as in any good writing. The unique factor with this venue is that the blogger has the impression that he or she is sharing with the world. Whether or not anyone actually reads the thing, the potential is there: a blogger can touch an individual or a nation with a multitude of opinions. What’s more, bloggers know that if readers don’t like something, they can close the window any time. Bloggers are free to offer unsolicited viewpoints; people are free to engage in them or not.
Secondly—and this is the harder one—be sensitive. Sensitivity is something that needs to be learned and nurtured, and is never entirely obtained, at least for people on my side of the personality spectrum who are drivers and extroverts. I need to slow down and continually think about how I phrase something and who is listening. I need to intentionally solicit the other person’s opinion so I’m not talking “at” but with someone. I need to notice others in ear shot and consider how they might be affected. Basically, I need to never be sloppy when it comes to talking. Whether I’m with colleagues, friends, or my spouse, I need to pay attention and realize the enormous impact words can have. “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18, NIV)
Thinking back at my mother’s slight criticism of the neighbors, it’s ironic that I’ve been living in an unfinished house for twelve years now. Furniture aside, we are missing light fixtures, baseboard, and bathroom sinks. One of our rooms still has plywood on the floor and our landscaping is packed dirt. My mother, who is actually quite a graceful lady, has kindly held her tongue.
Causes Gail Johnston Supports
The Stephens Ministry The Siena Maternity Home Young Life International