A mentor once advised me that a good rabbi needs a strong ego. We deal with much criticism because clergy often become the target of people’s frustration with God, life and the inevitable experiences of pain and suffering.
But I’ve learned that criticism is inevitable. Dealing with it takes effort. The same is true for everyone.
While I am fortunate to serve a loving and supportive community, I, like everyone, face occasional hostility. It could be a sermon, a decision, something said in passing. How do we survive it? How do we deal with it? Here are five responses that work.
Look for What is Useful in the Criticism
Look for what is useful: Criticism can be destructive. But it can also be constructive. The challenge is to look for the worthwhile insights. They can help us grow, and true success often comes through the way we respond to them.
David Allen uses the metaphor of a rocket to illustrate this truth. “Much of the energy in propelling a rocket,” he writes, “is spent in course correction—it is, in a way, always veering out of control and off target. It achieves its goal precisely because it has a responsive feedback mechanism that prevents it from wavering too far off its designated target.”
In other words, constructive criticism can help bring us back on target. It can serve as a useful course corrective.
The greatest biblical leaders needed occasional course corrections. Nathan the Prophet challenged King David’s infidelity. Jethro guides to Moses to become a more effective leader. No human being is perfect.
Embrace the Engagement Criticism Gives
Remember that criticism is a sign of engagement: Seth Godin writes that “you will be judged, or you will be ignored.” When someone challenges you, you know they are listening. That is a sign of influence. The alternative is being ignored. Which would you prefer?
President Teddy Roosevelt famously described himself as a man “in the arena.” You can’t escape from criticism in the arena. But in the arena is where we make a difference.
Keep Your Goals In Mind
Keep the long-term goal in mind: Purpose-driven people try to create something that lasts. It could be a family, a business, an organization. Building for the long-term means facing criticisms throughout the short-term. Rome was not built in a day. Neither is anything worthwhile.
In the Middle Ages, multiple generations of a family would help construct one cathedral. It might take centuries to complete. No wonder those cathedrals stand to this day.
Pause, then ask yourself, “Does it really matter?” The biggest mistakes happen when we act impulsively. Something angers us, and we send an e-mail too quickly, or we let hurtful words escape our lips. We can’t control what people say, but we can control how we respond.
Pausing can help us respond in a more effective way and prevent us from giving the criticism more than it’s due.
This one is particularly hard for many us. The emotional triggers in the brain react more quickly and forcefully than the rational ones.
Keep your moral and artistic center: Creative and successful people always face criticism. During his lifetime, Mozart’s work was called “too bizarre” and “overstuffed and overloaded.” Had he given up, the world would lack some of its greatest symphonies, concertos and moments of inspiration.
Remember that the world needs your gifts; even it seems certain people do not want them. It will work out. As screenwriter Dennis Palumbo put it, “Keep giving them you, until you is what they want.
How Do You Respond to Criticism?