Do everything without complaining or arguing. Then you will be innocent and without anything wrong in you. You will be God’s children without fault. But you are living with crooked and mean people all around you. Among them you shine like stars in the dark world. — Saul of Tarsus, Letter to the saints at Philippi (ICB)
Like a gold ring and a fine gold ornament, so is constructive criticism to the ear of one who listens. — Proverbs (NOG)
I’m struggling with something, and I’m struggling to verbalize it. I think the two verses powerfully express my struggle.
By nature, I’m detail oriented, almost to a fault. And in my detail orientation, I tend to be drawn to things that are broken and need to be fixed. I feel the wrongness almost like a bad chord vibrating disharmoniously throughout my entire being. And the wrongness and related discomfort continue until the thing is fixed.
When I was first discovering this about myself, I was accused so often of complaining and grumbling. I had “a negative spirit” and “never saw the good in anything.” And that made me angry. Wallowing in feeling lousy, I never saw anything good in this gift or skill until I had a manager tell me, “If you can’t give me at least one solution for the problem, don’t waste my time identifying the problem.”
Wow. So, if I could get creative enough to suggest a fix however elementary or dumb, at least I could identify and express the problem. It took a while, but as I parented and solved the problems of parenting, I gained the ability to step back and look at how to solve problems in other arenas.
But even as I was gaining in this skill, I kept being accused of being too critical. And sometimes, I needed to explore or express a problem which I didn’t have the experience to solve. It was a hard place. However, once I looked at the definitions of criticism, I realized the problem.
I went to dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster online. Both sources listed several definitions, including (in my own words) “the act of judging the merits or good and bad qualities of anything” and the “act of expressing severe disapproval or finding the faults in someone or something.” But each source had a different order of precedence for which meaning is used more often for the word.
It has to do with perception and understanding of language. In our “highly tolerant” culture, we forget that things break. It is okay to identify things as broken and needing to be fixed. The problem comes when we perceive others as broken.
People do break. People do hurt. People who are broken and hurt break and hurt others. And while you want to “fix” the broken breakers, you have to be careful that you’re not adding to the broken hurt in the breaker’s heart. And while we will never be completely fixed on this side of eternity, there are measures we all can take to improve.
However, if brokenness comes from medical issues, it might be best to not try to fix the person’s problem. It might be best to let the person’s medical team deal with the issues.
The same goes for brokenness from trauma. It takes a team of specialists to fix that.
But when it comes to people who just don’t know any better, that might be somewhere where you could get involved.
But you have to assess whether the person is ready for the message. A message at the wrong time will be resisted.
And you have to assess whether you have the authority and credibility to make the educational attempt. If the person does not respect who you are and where you’ve been, you might as well try to train a deaf dog to honor whistle commands; you’ll be just as successful.
Also, you have to assess whether it is true brokenness or whether it’s just a difference. Sometimes, we get so set in our way being the only possible way that we cannot see that other ways might exist.
Constructive criticism is a good and right thing. Jesus strongly urged it in Matthew 5:23-24. But you have to have the right motive. You have to set things right with a right motive because fixing for ease or comfort or appearances’ sake just won’t work.
One last thought: what do you do when you can’t make it right?
I think you have to look at what 12-step recovery programs urge in steps 8 and 9.
- Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
All that is required is an attitude and a willingness to make amends. Yes, you’re offended and you feel the need to fix. But maybe, it’s better to forgive them in your heart and let things go. That doesn’t mean you have to become best buddies forever; it just means that you could work with them on a team without jeopardizing the goals of that team.
The other caveat is that you cannot cause harm to yourself, the one you want to fix, or the people around you. It’s not just physical harm. Poor timing or poor message construction could cause emotional damage, and the emotional damage could result in spiritual damage. Damage is the exact opposite of what a fixer is seeking.
Just my not-so-humble (and confused and confusing) two cents’ worth…