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Cut the Criticism

DSC_0553-Jeff_Robinett_blog_portraitLast week, I challenged you to complain less. So, how did you do? As promised, I committed to live complaint-free for an entire day…and I must admit that I hit some rough spots! On a few occasions I had to think twice before speaking. A couple of times I simply chose to remain silent rather than blurt out a gripe!

Challenges like this are good to take from time to time, because complaining will suck the life out of you…and everyone around you. That’s because, as we learned last week…

The tongue has the power of life and death.

– Proverbs 18:21 (NIV)

This week I want to continue by sharing about three other behaviors that are closely related to complaining: criticism, negativity, and sarcasm. Where you find one, you’ll usually find the others.

Let’s start by looking at criticism. Right up front I want to point out that not all criticism is bad. Criticism can actually be useful when handled correctly!

Constructive criticism‒we often call it feedback‒helps people improve and allows them to serve better. Destructive criticism is different. Its purpose is to tear people down and reduce their value. You might think of it as "constructive criticism’s evil twin."

You’ve seen destructive criticism in action, but do you know what causes it? One word: jealousy!

Your neighbor gets a new car while you’re still driving a beater. A co-worker, who doesn’t work nearly as hard as you, receives a promotion. Your brother-who-can’t-keep-a-job wins a big lottery! Sound familiar?

The key to preventing jealousy is to be truly happy when other people succeed. If you’re indignant at their success, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Criticism helps us cope with jealousy...for a little while. It neutralizes our disappointment by making others seem less important. But as our words attempt to tear others down, they're tearing us down, too. Eventually we become the real victim! Here’s how the Bible says it…

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.

– Proverbs 14:30 (NIV)

Everyone struggles with bouts of jealousy from time to time. In case you're wondering...followers of Jesus aren’t exempt! But you can counteract jealousy's effects by choosing to be happy for people when they prosper. Change the way you think, and you will automatically change the way you speak.

Next, let’s take a look at negativity. Negativity, complaining and criticism often go hand in hand. Negative people complain about everything. When that doesn’t make them happy, they resort to criticizing others!

When you tell a negative person about your great day, they will tell you how horrible their day has been. If you tell a them about your great vacation, they will describe their vacation from hell in vivid detail.

And, if you tell a negative person about someone you really like, they will criticize that person by listing all the things they find objectionable.

How do we deal with negativity? The Apostle Paul figured it out…

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

– Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

It’s vitally important that we focus on the good things…the right things.  We must discipline our minds to constantly swap negative thoughts for a positive outlook.

Before closing let’s take a short look at sarcasm…or as I call it: criticism mixed with humor.

In today’s culture we expect a touch of humor in everything, because we think things that are funny are easier to accept.  But when humor is tainted with criticism, people are hurt.

Many years ago, one of my co-workers was a master of sarcasm. As a result, I never knew where I stood with them. After a while I became incredibly self-conscious, then extremely defensive. All their one-liners and zingers slowly killed me from the inside out. I was so glad to leave that job!

Because sarcastic statements are funny, people often think they're OK. (Until, of course, they become the target!) That’s why this behavior is particularly dangerous.

Once again, Paul knew the truth. He wrote…

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

 – Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

Words stick like glue to a person’s mind and heart.  As Christians, we are instructed to use them to encourage others. Because our words are so powerful, we must choose them wisely.

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