Sunday, September 11, 2005

Constructive Criticism

If someone criticizes you, what is your reaction? Does it matter if the critic means well or not? Do you attempt to act on criticism to make you better? Do you learn better by people telling you the things you're doing right, or the things you're doing wrong?

I have only one verse to quote here. It is Proverbs 9:8, which is this:

Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.

The logical implications of this verse are rather interesting.

I am of the opinion that the postmodern relativism so rampant these days has made people devalue criticism. Any sort of criticism tends to be viewed as bad, even if it is intended to be constructive. If you have read my post entitled, "Why don't they teach them logic at these schools?", you will see that it is quite possible to attack someone's position or thoughts without attacking the person. So people can mean well, point out a flaw in someone, and yet incorrectly be attacked in return for attempting to correct in the first place.

Now let me look at the first verse. Warning: you are approaching some logic here. All fuzzy thinkers beware! You might want to skip to the conclusion in the next paragraph. Examine the second part of this verse: reprove a wise man, and he will love you. I can rephrase this as follows: If a man is wise, and you reprove him, then he will love you. Let W represent that some particular man is wise, let R represent that you reprove this man, and let L represent that he loves you. Then we can represent our statement as follows: (W and R) implies L. Now what do most people do when they are criticized? They hate you for it. They certainly don't love you for it. So that means you have reproved them, and they do not love you. What is that going to mean? Well, let's take a look at the contrapositive of our statement. The contrapositive (which is equivalent to the original) goes like this: not L implies not (W and R). Now by DeMorgan's rules, we can distribute the second "not" by changing the "and" to "or". So again, we have: not L implies ((not W) or (not R)). Going back to our example, we see that the person you reproved does not love you. That means the "if" part is satisfied, and we are forced to conclude the "then" part, which means either not W or not R. So either this person you reproved is not wise, or you have not reproved him. But we assumed that you did reprove him. That means he must not be wise. Get that?

The implication goes like this: if you reprove a man, and he does not love you, then he is not wise. Think about that for a moment. Responding poorly to criticism (reproof, in the biblical language) is not wise. Period. So if you want to be wise, you have no choice but to respond well to criticism and reproof.

Something else I'd like to point out is that this verse makes no mention of whether this reproof was offered in a friendly or hostile manner. So according to the verse, it doesn't matter whether someone reproves you in a nice or not-so-nice way, you should still love the person (and by a clear implication, absorb what he says.)

Some people have remarked that I respond well to criticism. That may well be true. If so, I have two comments to make about that. The first is that you cannot prove the following: if you rebuke a man, and he loves you, he is necessarily wise. That simply does not follow from the verse we have been examining. So I am not necessarily wise simply because I accept criticism well. Wisdom is more complicated than any formula, this one included. The other, far more important thing I should mention is that even if I do accept criticism well, I do so only on the strength of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God has to give me grace to be humble and to accept criticism, or I'd never do it. And it must be the same for anyone, I believe. Why is that? Because criticism always implies that you are not as good as you could possibly be. You can improve. Such a statement flies in the face of the American way, the do-it-yourself, pull yourself up by the bootstrap mentality. The kind of humility that says, "You're right, I can improve," comes only from God. So I still have nothing to boast about, except that I know God. And even my knowing God only happened because God revealed Himself to me. As the Reformers would say, Soli Deo Gloria, which means "To God alone be the glory." As far as I'm concerned, this is the way I learn best. I have a big enough head to know what I'm doing right most of the time; I don't need more people telling me what I'm doing right, or I'll just get more puffed up. I need people telling me what I'm doing wrong! Then I'll make progress.

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At 9/12/2005 02:03:00 PM , Blogger Mr. Baggins said...

I wonder if criticism also needs to be examined in its own right. It is one thing to say that one thrives under criticism, but it is quite another to consider *what kind* of criticism is being talked about. Presumably you mean constructive criticism. I think that those who give criticism ought to be quite careful about *how* they give it. It is not enough merely to have a good relationship with the person. One must also frame the criticism with praise. Your logic is unimpeachable, of course. I jut point out that no one wants to receive criticism phrased in a "sharp" way, however wise they may be in receiving it.

At 10/03/2005 06:37:00 PM , Blogger Adrian C. Keister said...

Quite correct. And yes, I did mean constructive criticism, hence the clever title for this blog entry, "Constructive Criticism." Hehe. A wise person giving criticism will no doubt want to give some praise as well as criticism. It also greatly helps if the two people involved are quite well acquainted with each other.


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