Proverbs says, The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice. I must admit all too often in life I am among those on the foolish side of the coin. As a minister I get a lot of, let’s call it feedback, and sometimes this can be a struggle because I am not aiming at being thick-skinned but rather at being responsive and helpful and growing.
Matt D’Avella a YouTuber I appreciate recently he posted about habits of effective creatives, you know like YouTubers and bloggers and the like. One of the habits, as so often happens, is actually a biblical principal, though Matt doesn’t seem to know this (or if he does since he avoids letting it on). It is an important one for those of us who create things, be they sermons, products, artistic endeavours, or lead/influence others and so create spaces and cultures. Here is what he says, “Not all feedback is created equally.”
Basically we all need to tread carefully in both giving and receiving advice; many a relationship have been ruined by this and many a career and project has been stymied by the inability of proper criticism to influence the outcome. For the purpose of this little post I want to focus more on receiving, I suspect we can all get better at giving advice and maybe we can learn by analogy of what works when we are on the receiving end.
The Book of Proverbs has a lot to say about fools, and some of it has to do with the ability to accept criticism or advice. Proverbs 1.7 says, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Matt knows, as do we all, that criticism can be very difficult to hear, and yet it can be helpful. Like our school teachers who pointed out faults in order to build us up.
Part of the challenge in this these days is that so many people posture as though they are experts and spout off regarding any topic at all regardless of how well-versed they are in the topic. Just read the comments on Youtube of Facebook if you don’t know what I mean. I have been criticized for having a shirt tag showing, for dressing too formal and for not dressing formal enough (on the same day at the same event), for how I shake hands, stand, I could go on. And yet, just because a lot of criticism is nonsense doesn’t mean all of it is (obviously). Wisdom and growth depend on our ability to tell the difference and respond accordingly. While we might politely thank (and then ignore) the irritating pundit (I really don’t care if you think my shoes match my belt and socks:), we must sometimes delve deeper because some advice is good and meant to help us (not all criticism is as trivial as unsolicited fashion advice).
Personally, I have never been great at hearing let alone heeding advice. That being said there have been a few people who have been capable of striking a balance that gets me to listen. Here is the key: they are capable of showing me that they love me, care for me, and want to see the best for me and the projects I work on, and they offer their criticism (sometimes cutting because the best criticism rings true and hits us where we already know we need work) because they believe will help move me and the projects forward.
When we encounter criticism we might ask whose interest the criticism is in. Is someone showing off like a peacock? Is someone really looking to see you grow? Do they want the project to succeed? These are judgements and they can be hard to make but in my experience they are very helpful if one is stubborn/hard-headed like me and yet wishes to accept criticism that can help us grow.
Growth is the way forward and the alternative is ugly stagnation. Here is another line from proverbs, As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.
Personally, I would rather learn from sage advice.