There is a quote attributed to Aristotle, but usually attributed to Elbert Hubbard that I am hearing a lot these days, in fact I have heard it from a couple of different sources this week. “If you want to avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” Sounds like sage advice. Having lived a good share of my life on a public platform of a church, the quote certainly has the ring of truth.
Anyone who speaks often increases the likelihood that you will misspeak, say something using the wrong word or words. I have been told in one church when raising money for the tsunami victims in Asia, that I had misspoken and that my parishioner thought I ought to publicly admit my error. What was my faux pas? I had described a tsunami as the same thing as a tidal wave. I never did correct my supposed error, simply because most people never gave it a second thought.
In a sermon I talked about “Canadian geese” A former librarian, met me after sermon and told me that I should have known they are not Canadian geese, but Canada geese. I looked it up and she was right. She is a lovely lady, and was doing her best to keep me from sounding uneducated.
I have just shared a couple of the many speaking errors I have made. For some reason I did not allow these things to make me paranoid. I know that to step forward and speak, is to be open not only for making mistakes, but for having a host of folks who will help you see the error of your ways.
In one particular tough place, our pastoral staff meetings were quickly becoming a place to nurse our wounds. Criticisms were being sent in via the offering plate, our emails and face to face. I made a declaration at one of our Monday staff meeting. Before dismissing the criticism we are going to spend time looking for the kernel of truth in what we are being criticized for, and with God’s help make the needed changes. Just this one action changed the nature of how we view criticism and more importantly our critics. Most of my critics over the years have been my friends, who absolutely desire the best for me. A few have been the irregular folks, for whom we need to pray for grace and peace. You have to separate yourself from the situation and take a good hard look at yourself and the issue at hand.
I have decided to take a moment and view myself and my words and my actions from the view of the one lodging the criticism. Criticism comes in at least two flavors: Constructive and the not so constructive variety. You know what constructive criticism is don’t you? It is the kind I hand out! Constructive criticism never feels that way to the one who is on the receiving end. Yet I must admit that I have learned more from my critics than nearly any other group.
We are not without fault, and I am not with fault. I know it, and several others have recognized it as well.
Do not let criticism kill your spirit. Do not let it even ruin your day. It is a part of life, so look for the lesson and move on. Can’t find a lesson, that is a lesson as well, not every criticism is valid, sometimes it is based on perceptions, bad attitudes, and just plain meanness. I remember a former parishioner who wrote me a note and handed it to me after church one Sunday morning. At the end of the note in bold capital letters underlined was the following: ‘just shut up and preach.’ Someday I am going to write a book and that will be the title of the book. Even with that harsh appraisal of my preaching and leadership I did find a couple of nuggets of truth. One stick to preaching and be less inclined to share your opinions, regardless of how innocuous they may appear. Two, do not let mean-spirited people control your life!
If you are a person who lives a somewhat public life and do some public speaking and or preaching, I am reminded of a quote I came across in the Leadership Journal several years ago. “Remember the law of the whale, he or she who rises to the top and blows, there will be a harpoon waiting for you.
Even that reminds me of a lesson to be learned, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
Again, look for the kernel of truth in whatever anyone says to or about you today. Remember again the words of Aristotle or Hubbard: “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing and be nothing.” That is a price to high for me!
Remember as well, if we criticize harshly, perhaps we need to learn a lesson as well. A good habit for us to develop is to be kind and relax and enjoy life and not become a boo-bird.