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How to handle any criticism thrown at you

Unsplash/Adi Goldstein
Unsplash/Adi Goldstein

The title of the article drew me in like a magnet: "Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid."

Written by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in The Atlantic, the article traces the damaging effects of social media on our culture. His gloomy conclusion is that, because of our digital missteps, we have become a “fractured country … disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth.”

This inability to agree naturally results in an avalanche of horribly nasty criticism that’s spewed at everyone and in every direction. Haidt characterizes the so-called moral outrage that’s so prevalent in cyberspace this way: “… social media deputizes everyone to administer justice with no due process. Platforms like Twitter devolve into the Wild West, with no accountability for vigilantes … When our public square is governed by mob dynamics unrestrained by due process, we don’t get justice and inclusion; we get a society that ignores context, proportionality, mercy, and truth.”

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Sounds about right.

If you’re like me, you’ve no doubt taken derogatory thrashings on the web or been a victim of criticism in the flesh at work, out in public, or maybe in your own home. When the onslaught is constant and unrelenting, it’s easy to get to the same boiling point Job did with his know-it-all, critical “comforters”: “You people really know everything, don’t you? And when you die, wisdom will die with you!” (Job 12:2, NLT).  

I’ve been there.

For sure, it’s never easy to take criticism. While I’m no expert at “disparagement management,” I’ve gotten a tiny bit better at handling it over the years. For me, the key is avoiding the extremes and applying a good dose of Christian wisdom in dealing with the fault-finding tomahawks that are thrown my way.  

Worth shape

Isn’t it strange that, for many of us, whenever an invalid, biting criticism such as “you’re ugly / dumb / wrong / a loser” is hurled at us, our first inclination is to believe it? Here’s some advice: don’t do it.

Why? Because when you accept and live according to unsound personal assessments — either from others or yourself — believe it or not you’re engaging in a form of worship. Yes, you heard me right.

Christians correctly understand worship as giving reverence and praise to God, but the word also applies to giving weight and credence to anything. This is why you’ll hear the term sometimes referred to as “worth-ship.”

But it goes deeper than that. The word also implies a fashioning process where the thing in question molds us into the impressions it’s making on us. In this case, the term literally means “worth-shape.”

This is why and how false, ugly criticisms damage so many people. We bow to it as truth and it, in turn, destroys the real worth we have before God as it twists us into the bogus vision it has cast at us.   

So having our worth shaped by criticism is one extreme to avoid, but there’s another one equally as problematic.

You don’t know the half of it

Criticism, even if it’s truthful, usually makes us angry. Our first reaction is often to become defensive and deny the statements being made regardless of their validity.

The best antidote to this extreme is to repeat in your head what one pastor (whose name I forget) said about dealing with someone who is dishing out negatives at you: “You don’t know the half of it.”   

This attitude takes the view that whatever uglies people are saying about us (even if true), the reality is much worse when viewed from God’s vantage point. Whatever people may know or think they know about us, it doesn’t come close to what God knows.  

Humbling? Yep. Hard to swallow sometimes? Sure. But it works wonders for keeping at bay the attempts yours and my wrongful pride can make at masking our true selves.

In the end, tackling criticism involves seeing yourself — the good and the bad — as God sees you.

On the one hand, you are created in His image, have innate moral worth, and the only shape you need to be molded into is the correct one He has of you, which is a glorious one. On the other hand, we recognize our sinful faults and accept that we fall short of His perfection, but also know we are being conformed to Christ’s image more every day (Rom. 8:29).   

One last thing: don’t forget that Jesus knows our pain in this area. Read His biographies and you’ll see much of His life can be summed up in a line Luke writes about His trial before Pilate: “And the chief priests and the scribes were standing there, accusing Him vehemently” (Luke 23:10, my emphasis).

But He overcame the barbs fired at Him because He knew the truth, which is how we do it too. 

Remember: If God’s truth is not ruling over you, something else is. Ensure His truth is always reigning over you and you’ll be able to handle any criticism ever thrown your way.   

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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