Keller on Newton on taking criticism
How do you take criticism? Here's an excerpt from a recent blog post by Tim Keller:
Recently several people have asked me ‘how do you deal with harsh criticism?’ In each case, the inquirer had felt stung by what they felt were unfair attacks on him or her. In this internet age, anyone can have their views censured unfairly by people they don’t know. So what do you do when that happens? Here’s is the gist of the counsel I give people when they ask me about this. For years I’ve been guided by a letter by John Newton that is usually entitled “On Controversy.”
The biggest danger of receiving criticism is not to your reputation, but to your heart. You feel the injustice of it and feel sorry for yourself, and it tempts you to despise not only the critic, but the entire group of people from which they come. “Those people…” you mutter under your breath. All this can make you prouder over time. Newton writes: “Whatever…makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.” He argues that whenever contempt and superiority accompany our thoughts, it is a sign that “the doctrines of grace” are operating in our life “as mere notions and speculations” with “no salutary influence upon [our] conduct.”
Keller, following Newton, goes on to suggest some practical ways to avoid this:
1. Look for the kernel of truth in the criticism, and then repent where you are wrong. There usually is at least a kernel when the criticism is coming from someone who knows you.
2. Don't mock the critic in your mind - even if you don't know them and their criticism is unwarranted. Remind yourself of your own mistakes and hasty judgment and pray for the critic.
3. Deal gently with the other person, even in your own mind. It's a spiritual trap to shrug things off on the outside while hanging the critic in your own mind and heart.