Criticism seems woven into the fabric of American life. Professional critics of the arts have long been part of the pattern, helping us decide which books to read and plays to see. Adding splashes of color and sometimes knotting the threads are current critics of war, critics of government, critics of pollution, critics of industry, critics of young people (and their “establishment”), critics of older people (and their “establishment”). The hawk or the polluter or the industrialist, the young person or the older person, will bristle at one—at least—of these types of critics. But the type we all would vote for as the one most likely to annoy is the critic of persons—specifically, of us. Personal criticism is the least appreciated kind.

All criticism is hard to take; constructive criticism is hard to give. Perhaps some principles and examples will help bring the gracious give and take of criticism into the realm of possibility.

To welcome the critic is to disarm him. Much criticism is built on uninformed assumption, on imagined slights, or on second-hand opinions. If we resent the criticism, and with it the critic, building bridges of relaxed communication becomes impossible. By reacting indignantly we assure our critic that he has in fact touched a sore spot, a tender, inflamed part of our ego that needs some kind of therapy. Many times prejudice will melt in the warmth of welcomed opinion—and in this way we often gain a friend and prevent further criticism.

The Value Of Self-Criticism

One way to avoid criticism is to be critical of oneself. Nothing so quickly brings oneness in a fellowship as leaders’ willingness to share their failures and ask for prayer. James did not say, “Confess your faults one to another—that is, of course, ...

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