If one of our buddies was sitting next to a girl we would teasingly say, “John and Jane, sittin’ in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G! First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in the baby carriage.” On our rare fishing outings growing up, I would get real excited if a fish jumped out of the water. My father would say, “Jumping fish never bite.”
My brother and sisters had a saying whenever we would tease each other. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” You may have used the same saying; boldly and defiantly said to whoever was teasing you, but we all discovered that words really do hurt us.
Why is it that you can hear a dozen compliments given to you during the day, but it is the one harsh criticism that stands out the most?
Typically, compliments are general and criticism is specific.
“You did good work today.”
“You were a great help.”
“You made the project successful.”
“You should not have sent that order out today. Now it is going to create problems.”
“I cannot believe you spank your children. They are going to hate you and rebel.”
“You voted for that person!?! Now our country is going to fail because of you.”
Each of us has experienced sharp and cutting remarks that hit us in the stomach and hurt. I once had a delivery route and delivered a metro paper in our area to provide extra income to stay on top of regular bills. My delivery car was well used and had brakes that squeaked. Squeaked, not screeched. After notes from a customer about my noisy brakes, I made certain I glided in to her place as quietly as I could, using as little brakes possible. She came out 4:30am one morning as I was leaving and scolded me very thoroughly. She critically asked, “Why don’t you people fix your cars and drive better cars?”
I apologized. I was too prideful to answer that the people delivering papers from 2am-6am each morning are doing it as a second job to keep their homes and bills paid. The level of cars we drive reflects our tight budgets.
I was most surprised how a stranger could make me feel so hurt and angry at the same time. The quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that is used in the movie, “Princess Diaries” is apt here, “No one can make you feel inferior unless you consent.”
Three strategies to avoid broken bones from words:
1. Accept the truth and reject the lies. Examine the harsh criticism and own up to what is true. Let go of the lies or misunderstandings.
2. Clear the air. Often critics have partial information. Give them the full picture without defending yourself, but lifting the fog of partial knowledge and letting them see with clarity.
3. Say, “Thank You”. Thank the person for their comments and ask them if there is anything else they wish to say. This last reaction often shocks the critic. They are not accustomed to a polite, courteous reaction and invitation for more dialogue. Often this softens their heart and makes for a better relationship down the road.
Proverbs 15:4 (The Message)
4 Kind words heal and help;
cutting words wound and maim.
What have you found helpful when criticized?