My brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers, because we know that we teachers will be judged more strictly. We all make mistakes often, but those who don’t make mistakes with their words have reached full maturity. Like a bridled horse, they can control themselves entirely. When we bridle horses and put bits in their mouths to lead them wherever we want, we can control their whole bodies. James 3:1-3
I have to confess…sometimes, I can be a little critical of others. Okay, so maybe the “a little” is really more of an “a lot”. I have an analytical mind. Years of English study has taught me to take a whole work and break it apart into tiny pieces to examine, analyze, and evaluate its worth. This is great for unpacking literature–not so much for unpacking human beings. Yesterday, as I was watching my children play in a botanical garden, I found myself evaluating the people around me. The woman in a Ralph Lauren maxi dress with strappy sandals and a scarf was a snob. The woman in faded, ripped jean shorts, a dirt-smudged t-shirt and old scruffy tennis shoes was not very bright. And the woman with crazy hair in a bright red Cardinals t-shirt that said “Jedi Knight” on the back was just weird. Oh wait–that was me! You see what I’m getting at, right? Being critical is so easy, but it’s always a two-way street.
Recently, God has been pushing me to rethink my propensity to perform critical analysis in all areas of my life. Instead of criticizing when opportunities present themselves, I hear God saying (very kindly, of course), “Shut up.” It’s not my job to criticize others. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for teaching and for accountability. However, like the book of James says, we need to place a bit in our mouths to carefully control what comes out of them. Our teaching should never be about diminishing someone else. Accountability should never be about condemnation.
Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that my criticisms of others often stem from my own insecurities. Criticizing is a self-centered action. It’s about making ourselves seem better than someone else. It’s looking at someone, judging them, and then saying, “Well, I would never do that.” I would never talk to my child like that. I would never coach a game like that. I would never teach that way. When we criticize others, we’re often trying to compensate for our own feelings of inadequacy or lack of self-esteem. We’re not happy with ourselves, so we take it out on others.
Criticizing is a completely unproductive habit. It’s not about making a situation better, rather, it’s about building our own egos. And, if I’m building my own ego, I’m not focusing on the work God has placed before me to do. I can’t be the person God created me to be if I’m constantly focused on finding fault in others.
As I was pondering a way to tame the critical beast within me, the following thoughts came to mind. I’ve decided to challenge myself (and you) to answer the following questions before engaging in any sort of criticism.
- Is my criticism really about something someone else is doing, or is it about my own insecurities as a wife, mother, teacher, writer, leader, etc…?
- Will the behavior or situation I’m criticizing change for the better by vocalizing my complaint?
- If my criticism is valid, am I willing to directly confront the situation and seek a positive outcome in a way that supports and uplifts others?
If we’re willing to engage in a little introspection, I think we could more easily tame our critical tongues. And, if we work to control our critical thoughts and words, the effect will go far beyond ourselves. We will live with more joy, and we will be able to share that joy with others.
The apostle John told his followers that they would be known by their love. Perhaps, showing love begins with taming the tongue.
Blessings and Peace,