Albert Einstein wasn’t always acclaimed for his scientific breakthroughs, notes physicist Stephen Hawking in his book A Brief History of Time (Bantam Books). “His theories came under attack; an anti-Einstein organization was even set up.” But Einstein remained unconcerned about these critics, Hawking writes. “When a book was published entitled 100 Authors Against Einstein, he retorted, ‘If I were wrong, then one would have been enough!”
The painter Zeuxis said: “Criticism comes easier than craftsmanship.
And then the famous Charles M. Schwab says: “I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.”
Aha! Criticism. Most of us have to live with it and most of us give it out too. In my life of work I deal with it all the time. Most people I know are gracious. Their criticisms are honest and when I get it, I reflect on it and then I improve. But then there are others who would love to throw mud and criticize just for the sake of criticizing. Their intention is not to help another person become better, their main motive is to project themselves as being better than everybody else at the expense of the person they criticize.
Many critics criticize because they don’t really know. A noted bullfighter wrote a poem, a few lines of which seem appropriate. “The bullfight critics ranked in rows. Fill the enormous plaza full. But only one is there who really knows, And he’s the one who fights the bull.”
Ted Williams, one of baseball’s greatest hitters, said, “When somebody says nice things about me, it goes in one ear and out the other. But I remember the criticism longer. I hate criticism-and the sportswriters who write the way they feel instead of what they’ve actually seen.”
Here is my take on this. Correction is never pleasant. Being criticized is as amusing as going to a dentist for a root canal (without anesthesia). And though we cannot control what people say, but we sure can control the way we respond to their criticisms no matter how harsh and painful they may be.
And when it’s our turn to criticize, we need to make sure that we give our comments because we are knowledgeable. We need to check our hearts that our motive is clean and noble and we need to format our words carefully so that they are dispensed with grace and kindness. And when we criticize, we should be prepared with offering options to improve the situation.
A young boy complained to his father that most of the church hymns were boring to him—too far behind the times, tiresome tunes and meaningless words. His father put an end to the discussion by saying, ‘If you think you can write better hymns, then why don’t you?’ The boy went to his room and wrote his first hymn. The year was 1690. The teenager was Isaac Watts. ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’ and ‘Joy to the World’ are among almost 350 hymns written by him. Feeling Bored? Let the world remember you for 300+ years!”2
But the key here is not just to criticize but to do something constructive with your criticism.
I recall reading about a lady who said to Evangelist Dwight L. Moody, “I don’t like the way you preach,” to which Mr. Moody replied, “I don’t either. How do you do it?”
Constructive criticism is fine—providing we are prepared to do something about what we are being critical about—rather than just being negative and becoming a part of the problem.
This statement credited to Theodore Roosevelt is perhaps the most eloquent defense of the man or woman living where the rubber meets the road that has yet been offered: “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”