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 flack.”
Or as Elbert Hubbart 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. 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.)
3. The Trolls. Trolls are people who are set on your destruction. They are governed by hatred, usually rooted in envy or jealousy. Oftentimes, 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 do not receive correction from anyone, and they lose credibility quickly. 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.
Your Response to Trolls. All social media experts say the same thing: Don’t feed the trolls; ignore them. If you engage a troll and try to correct him/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. The experts point out that trolls don’t dignify a response. They are being deliberately dishonest so there’s no use in trying to correct them. The wisest course of action is to ignore them. 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.
Each of the three kinds of critics can be Christians (trolls are often professing Christians, sometimes claiming their Christianity quite loudly).
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)