Criticisms are healthy. They aid in renewal and in revitalization to bring about change for the better. Without criticisms, we will be stuck with the same old same old.
Criticisms, however, are not the same as fault-finding. The aim of criticisms is not to keep finding fault in the other person. That isn’t criticism; that is what it is: fault-finding.
Neutral criticisms are what we call feedback. People generally accept feedback because it’s emotion-free. Criticisms, however, tend to be charged with emotion. And, that’s why I say it’s healthy because it reflects the strong feelings people feel about the issue and offers a chance for it to be addressed — if the people who can address the issue are secure and mature enough to see the issue and the accompanying emotion and address both. Usually, when the issue is addressed, the emotion dissipates, and the criticisms come to an end.
Vibrant relationships and communities are characterized by the accommodation of criticisms. Let’s take personal relationships. You notice how family members (those who really care for you) will tell you to your face what your problem is?! If we become slighted by the criticism and wither, shrink and withdraw into our shell or react, we miss the chance to confront the issue. If the relationship is healthy, even if the criticism stings, we deal with the issue and the relationship becomes stronger.
In public service, it is the same. People criticise because the issue affects them in some way and they want resolution. Or, they may feel that the leadership isn’t what they thought it would be and they want a change. It’s the right of the people to change the leaders they voted in. Criticising the leadership isn’t personal; it’s criticising the abuse of the office they have been entrusted with.
Criticisms expose the wrong. But if the response is to shut down the criticism, that is clearly oppression, and oppression which is executed to prop up insecure leaders.
The thing to note is this: It is not the criticism that is making the leaders insecure; the leaders are already insecure and the criticisms merely expose it. The thing to do is not to silence the criticism but to examine oneself to find out what is the insecurity stemming from and act to overcome. When the leader becomes more secure, he or she will be able to address what the criticisms are addressing, deal with it and in time there will be no grounds for the criticisms!
The result? Leaders become better people, the issue is resolved and everybody becomes more settled!
Those who are most averse to criticisms are usually the religious leaders. Some of them hold the belief that since they have the “words of God” or know best what that means, criticising them is as good as criticising God.
Nothing is further from the truth! Criticising to expose wrong-doing (sin) is promoting righteousness. And righteousness is always of God.
Let me give some historical examples. If not for criticisms there will be no Protestantism — no Protestant denominations like the Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists, Assembly of God, etc, etc.
If Martin Luther hadn’t criticised the errors in the Catholic Church at that time, there would have been no Reformation that rejuvenated Christianity with the birth of the Protestant movement. But, he did and the result was a great diversity in the expressions of faith and worship in Christianity as seen by the various denominations. At the same time, there was renewal in the Catholic Church. The latter confronted the sins of the past, acknowledged them, abandoned those practices and moved on to a better testimony.
Closer to home, let’s look at the Bible. The prophets of the Bible were always exposing sin in their leaders and community and other nations. They were always “criticising” and some of them use very harsh language, invoking God’s damnation on the sinful! Of the 39 books in the Old Testament of the Bible, 17 books are on the prophets — the religious leaders who were most unpopular because they rarely had anything nice to say!
But, said, they did, and faced the consequences! One — Jeremiah — was accused of treason and imprisoned (Jeremiah 37-38) and another — Zechariah — was even murdered (2 Chronicles 24: 15-22).
Criticisms are necessary to keep public officials in check. This that does not mean we need to use offensive language to criticise. But, as in anything human, there will be abuse and some will criticise for the sake of doing so and resort to offensive language. In public discourse, when that happens there will be others who will criticise that! In this way, there are checks and balances for everyone.
The lesson is this: People criticise because there’s a need to. And, leaders should see criticisms not as personal affronts but as opportunities to redress the wrong, resolve the issue and solve the problem.