Sunday, August 14, 2011

Criticism is Autobiographical

I have had this nagging suspicion within me for some time now that criticism is autobiographical. Since I began to think it through, my awareness has been heightened to either confirm or deny the theory. I have talked it over with people and tested out the theory and pretty much everything continues to point to the this idea being true.

Let me explain the idea a little bit more. When criticism is offered, there is some part of that criticism that the criticizer would be able to sit down and identify within themselves if they really stopped to take a look. In other words, if they were really honest with themselves, after a long, hard look, they would discover that some of the very things that annoy them about other people are evident in their own lives.

An innocuous example of this would be in driving. We may be critical of the driver who goes the speed limit when we are running late for an appointment, questioning whether this person believes in bending the rules at all. When our time comes to be the "rule follower" we may look in the rearview mirror with disdain and frustration at the person who is riding our bumper in hopes of pushing our speed just a few miles above the speed limit.

The awareness that has been birthed in me through this theory has been incredibly convicting. Of course, it probably started out as I began to look at some of the criticism that I was receiving from others and after some soul-searching and analysis, I discovered that some of the very things that I was being criticized of were being committed by my accusers. I consider myself fairly introspective, so the analysis never stopped there, but I have been taking a long, hard look at myself to determine the validity of both the criticisms that I have received as well as the criticisms that I have doled out.

The biblical precedent for this theory is really found in Matthew 7:3-5, "3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." Jesus makes it pretty clear that this is not a problem that is uncommon.

When it comes to criticism, there are some important things to consider. 1) Who is the criticism being received from? Is the person reputable? Do you have a relationship with them? Do you trust them? Do they exhibit clear signs of spiritual growth? Answering "no" to any of these questions does not discount the validity of the criticism, I would just exercise caution and discernment in determining whether there is legitimacy to the criticism. 2) Is there truth to the criticism? Each and every one of us has a subjective view of ourselves. It is virtually impossible to see things, especially things in ourselves, without looking through the subjective lens of "self." Are there people within your life who can speak openly and honestly to you? Do you trust them? Do you listen to them? After some amount of self-assessment, find someone you trust and share the criticism. Find out whether or not they think that there may be validity to the criticism. 3) If it's determined that there is truth to the criticism, ask yourself whether or not it might be a good idea to share with the person who brought it to you what steps you are taking to grow in this area. If a person truly loves and cares for you, then they want you to grow. Sharing your growth steps with them will be points for their prayers for you as well as encouragement to know that nothing has hindered your relationship. It is also an incredible act of humility to admit that there are areas of growth in your life. All of us have them, not all of us will acknowledge them, let alone being to make strides towards allowing God to change us.

If you find that the criticism that has been brought to you is autobiographical, it does not mean that there is no legitimacy to it. It is still important to make strides towards removing the "plank" from your own eye before looking at the "speck" in your brother's eye, regardless of whether your brother neglected that advice himself.

I don't bring up this theory of criticism being autobiographical to hold it over everyone who criticizes you. The point is much more personal: if we consider that criticism is autobiographical, we may think twice before we begin hurling criticisms at other people. That's really what has begun to take place in me. When something bothers me about someone, after the initial carnality within me, I start to ask myself why. Then I begin to unearth what's inside of me, frequently discovering some of the very same sin that I have discovered in someone else.

So, next time that you want to be critical of someone, ask yourself whether the very thing that bothers you about someone else is evident in you. You may be surprised what you find and discover that there are some growth areas in you that you never even knew were there.

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