The trouble with most of us,” someone once said, “is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” That’s really true. Go ahead, ruin me.
The truth is, we can work ruin by either extreme:
- Give nothing but compliments.
- Offer only criticism.
Words that compliment and words of criticism both strike like arrows, and they seldom miss their mark.
But the huge difference between them can be surprising.
A compliment-only person ruins by flattery.
Here we see the truth of the Bible fleshed out:
A man who flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his steps. —Proverbs 29:5
Often we mean well, but we need more courage to speak the truth in love.
- By avoiding the negative and only mentioning the positive, we can actually contribute to the ruin of another.
- Affirmation is great! But our silence toward a friend in error contributes to their error, and ultimately, to their loss.
But then there’s the other extreme.
A critical person disregards timing and tone.
Because the motive of the critic is self, the best time to share is always now. Boy, we struggle with this, don’t we?
- Our manner is usually unkind, and occasionally, even rude.
- When we are critical all the time, we ARE trying to improve others—but not because we actually give a rip—but in order to remove what we perceive as irritating.
- It’s all about self.
A concerned person balances compliments, criticisms, timing, and tone.
True concern wants to see the other person grow in character and influence. That’s why we share from a motive of love. Two examples:
- Consider our children. We affirm the behavior we see in them that we desire, but we also discipline them when we see what we don’t desire. Both are essential. But so is the motive—and so is the timing. If there’s nothing but harsh and angry criticism we break their spirit—and we invite their rebellion (mark that well). If there’s nothing but praise they never learn to tame their selfishness. Because King David “never crossed [his son] at any time by asking, ‘Why have you done so?’” David was partly to blame for this son’s tragic death (1 Kings 1:6).
- Consider our spouses or close friends. Words of affirmation should be the normal environment for close relationships (Song of Songs 1:3). But honesty about weaknesses also needs addressing.
If you truly care for someone, you will address a repeated fault with kindness and concern. Proper timing and tone are essential. Prepare your heart with prayer. Speak the truth in love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend. —Proverbs 27:6
It is not love to silently watch a friend or family member drown in alcohol or destructive behavior. Love doesn’t sit idly by while someone wastes life away.
Love will intervene, but then, love will also commit it to prayer. Even the truth spoken in love again and again can harden the heart of the hearer to it. Give them time to grow. We don’t want our words—be they compliments or criticisms—to get in the way.
For in the end, only God changes people.
Tell me what you think: How do you balance the tension between compliments and criticism? To leave a comment, just click here.