Not long ago, someone asked me the following question:
“Frank, I’m a new author and I’ve been getting some criticism over my new book. I know you’re not a stranger to criticism because of the controversial things you’ve written in years past. Can you give me some advice on how to handle criticism? I don’t think I’m doing a good job with it. Thanks.”
Anyone who is making an impact is going to draw fire. It’s written in the bloodstream of the universe. An oft-repeated platitude is, “If you’re flying over the target, you’re going to catch flak.”
Or as Elbert Hubbard stated, “To avoid criticism do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”
If you are someone who is putting (or will one day put) your hand to the plow of God’s work, you will invite criticism. And the more valuable your contribution is to the kingdom of God, the more severe the criticism will be.
In answer to the above question, here’s what I believe the Lord has taught me about handling criticism. In short, there are three kinds of critics and each should be responded to differently.
1. The Supporters. These are people who love you and support what you are doing. Any criticism they bring your way is constructive. It is designed to make you a better person. Supporters want you to succeed and they are cheering for you and your work. For instance, if you’re a writer, a supporter may point out a typographical or grammatical error. They may also draw your attention to a factual error (perhaps you got a historical date wrong, for instance).
Your Response to Supporters. Welcome their criticisms. They are doing you a great service by pointing out your blind spots and oversights. Always thank them for taking the time to draw your attention to such things. Sometimes it’s not easy for them to do so.
2. The Objectors. Objectors are people who have a genuine disagreement with you about something. They aren’t your enemy. Consequently, they aren’t contentious, mean-spirited, and they don’t misrepresent you or your work. They are coherent in their disagreements, and they disagree in a civil fashion, which makes them credible and worth hearing. None of us can claim immaculate perception; therefore, you could be wrong. So be thankful for these people.
Your Response to Objectors. Be open to the objectors because they may be right in their disagreement. Give them an ear and investigate what they are saying. It may turn out that their objection is accurate and they have done you a service by correcting your thinking on something. On the other hand, by analyzing their argument, they may confirm that you are correct.
I’ve found that in most cases when I have engaged an objector and we talked through the apparent disagreement, we discovered that we really didn’t disagree. (See So You Think You Disagree? 4 Reasons Why You May Not. That said, I have always been available to discuss my differences with people who disagree with me in a coherent way and with a civil spirit. There are many examples of this here and here.
As Martin Luther King Jr, once put it, “Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.”
3. The Trolls. Trolls are people who are set on your destruction. They are governed by hatred, usually rooted in jealousy. Trolls will first deliberately misrepresent you. But if that doesn’t work, they will resort to personal attacks and character assassination. Trolls are dishonest and traffic in manufacturing lies, spinning the truth, and distorting facts. They are very often described as “kooks” and make ridiculous accusations and bogus connections that are not only unsubstantiated, but outrageous.
Trolls do not receive correction from anyone, and they lose credibility rapidly. Only the gullible and those who also operate by hatred and envy agree with and support them. Trolls usually attack those they don’t know personally. Another common characteristic is that they repeatedly lift themselves up while tearing others down. They are inflicted with an inflated ego that has never gone to the cross. For this reason, they are toxic to others and are their own worst enemies.
Your Response to Trolls. All social media experts agree: Don’t feed the trolls; ignore them. If you engage a troll and try to correct him or her, it will be in vain. In fact, it’s counterproductive because it simply makes them appear more credible and draws attention to their dishonest statements. Trolls deserve to be treated with disdain. They do not dignify a response. Trolls are deliberately dishonest so there’s no use in trying to correct them. In fact, to do so elevates them to a position that they don’t deserve.
Trolls are puny enemies. To engage or interact with them is to make yourself puny. Like an irritating gnat, it is wise to consign a troll to oblivion by ignoring him or her. It is a waste of your time and energy to get entangled with a troll. Doing so will constitute a “tar baby” in your life. By acknowledging a troll’s vitriol and absurdities, you give him or her existence and credibility.
As Proverbs 26:4 says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly or you will be like him yourself.” Eventually, trolls always end up dying on their own swords. So do not give them any undue attention.
(The exception to this is if you are specifically called to expose a troll. Some people are called to that task, but in doing so, they are not engaging the troll directly. They are instead exposing the troll’s track record, history of dishonesty, and any legal or ethical violations – such as defamation violations, social media suspensions, and church excommunications. Christians who expose the sins of others, however, should always first go to the person who is trolling privately alone, and then privately with witnesses, following the steps set forth in Matthew 18, asking the person to repent before their transgression is exposed publicly.)
Each of the three kinds of critics can be Christians (in the case of a troll, they are “professing” Christians since they consistently violate Matthew 7:12 by their despicable behavior.)
When it comes to criticism, it’s important to remember that all things that come into your life — good or evil — have first passed through God’s hands (Romans 8:28ff.) So be thankful to the Lord for criticism. Receive the constructive kind with a spirit of gratefulness and ignore that which is rooted in falsehood, taking the high road as did your Lord when He was under attack:
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)