"If no one is accusing you of being too legalistic, then you probably aren't living a holy life. If no one is accusing you of being a 'bleeding heart', then you probably aren't loving enough. If no one is accusing you of being too dogmatic, then you probably aren't standing for the truth. If no one is accusing you... or criticizing you...you probably aren't doing anything significant."
-- Israel Wayne
This was posted on Facebook yesterday and it got me thinking, as many of the things Israel says often do. It was very timely for me as I thought back to some of the events of the past several years writing for Art of Eloquence, various Christian and homeschool magazines as well as podcasting and teaching seminars. It doesn't feel good to be criticized, but it is to be expected when you take a stand...any stand. And it actually has a purpose that is beneficial to us as Christians. What could be so positive about negative feedback? A few things actually!
First, criticism has a way of helping us see how we come across to others so that we can assess ourselves and make any necessary changes. Sometimes there is no other way to really know how we come across to a group of people other than to have some of them email you some love and hate mail. One nasty gram might not be cause to change your stance on an issue, but a few customers or friends might help you to see a better way to say something or a more effective way to approach a topic.
Another good use of criticism is to help you know that you are on track following the Lord's plan for your life. I believe the phrase is, "If you had to prove you were a Christian in a court of law, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" If you are a Christian and do not at least occasionally find a criticism in your inbox, blog comments or Facebook wall, you may want to check your Great Commission Meter. AND...the more public you make your views, the more criticism you will encounter.
Try hosting a weekly Christian podcast for a year and see how many shows you can do before you encounter a listener who is less than cordial. Open your Facebook page to the world and post notes like "The Seven Wonders of the Christian World"
and see how long it takes for someone to post a comment that is not so complementary. Put scripture all over your products or website and agree to teach a seminar about your topic and see how long you can go before someone takes offense. I was asked to talk to a Christian
online audience about my company once and had a listener who said she was a Christian accuse me of pushing my religion down people's throats!
Each time I post a topic like this on my blog, Facebook or speak about it at a seminar, I expect to get some criticism. What helps me to deal with it in grace is that I am prepared for it and I have an understanding of communication skills that is based on scripture. The Lord chose to talk a great deal about how we communicate with one another in His Word! Anyone can learn to handle these situations with greater ease just by studying them. In fact, I'm about to release a new study that will make that even easier to learn than it was for me! This is part of the reason I wanted to write "21 Days to More Godly Communication."
Sometimes Christians grow weary in doing good. As human beings, we wish to minimize our exposure to the hate mail and sometimes there really is no positive purpose to it other than someone venting hatred. I don't mind if someone disagrees with me, many people do! Many cherished people in my own family disagree with me! However, one can disagree without being disagreeable. It's usually called a discussion.
But, I want to discuss something else that comes from our Love and Hate Mail--something that very few talk about and something that Israel brought to my mind. One of the problems is to discern if a criticism is something we should consider prayerfully or the kind that serves only to distract and dissuade us from our mission. This can be difficult, especially if you are getting criticism that is quite diverse. I sometimes watch Bill O'Reilly and find it interesting how he can get both love and hate mail on the very same interview! Some see him as having been too easy on a guest and others see him as having been to hard on him. On the very same issue, some cry, "You dirty rat!" and others shout, "Way to go, Mr. O.!"
There will always be those who disagree with you--even if you stand for the things of God...and sometimes ESPECIALLY if you stand for the things of God. It can be a frustration as you try to discern which emails to take to heart and which ones you should just let go. I've had similar issues from time to time and since I adore making people happy and providing value to others, it is occasionally difficult for me to view my own hate mail. For example, some emails complain that our newsletter has "nothing useful" for them while in response to that very same newsletter, others say the information was a blessing and a God Send! Some tell me my blog post blessed them while others tell me it was hateful.
It's discouraging to read that someone didn't feel what we had spent hours creating to give as a free gift was, in their opinion, "nothing useful." However, it was quite encouraging to read the other emails sharing how much they enjoyed and appreciated it. So how do we know which emails should cause us to make changes? Often we do this by weighing the Pro's and Con's? You know, how many liked what we did and how many DIDN'T. This can often prove misleading. The fact is that most people will not take the time to dash off a thank you note even if they really appreciate something you have done or provided. Negative communication travels faster and farther than positive communication. With folks so busy trying to provide for their families these days, criticism is more abundant than praise. Folks who are offended by something will more easily justify taking the time to write a caustic note of discontent.
That brings me to another issue that not everyone is aware of when dealing with Love and Hate Mail. With the impersonal nature of communication in the Information Age, the emotional level of our Love and Hate Mail is not at all even. A busy emailer may find the time to jot a note of encouragement that goes something like this, "Thanks so much for your article. It was very timely." However, "An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of the citadel."
says Proverbs 18:19. An emailer offended by your post might regale you for several paragraphs of colorful verbiage complete with expletives because he doesn't have to look you in the eye as he tears you apart with his words.
If we cannot discern which emails indicate we need to make changes by words or by volume, how can we? We can pray. We wait for communication from God to help us determine where we need to listen to the criticism and where we need to just let it go. We determine which criticism will help us reach others for His Glory and which will be contradictory to our mission He has for us--which criticism will help us serve Him and which will undermine our mission. We keep in mind that we always speak in grace, but that what we say and do should be honoring to God first.
Love and Hate Mail will, I think, always be disturbing to us as human beings because most of us seek to please. Most of us try to avoid confrontation. Speaking in grace will give us the greatest probability of being effective without conflict, but there is a time when someone will take offense to what we say or do for reasons we cannot compromise. That is when we know we are probably on the right path.
Love and Hate Mail can be helpful in communicating what we are doing well and what we may need to work on, but it should NOT be a meter by which we change direction away from the Lord's mission for our lives. We should allow it to help us to become more effective and gracious in what we do for the Lord, but we should not let it deter us from our path.
JoJo Tabares holds a degree in Speech Communication, but it is her humorous approach to communication skills which has made her a highly sought-after Christian speaker and writer. Her articles appear in homeschool publications, such as Homeschool Enrichment Magazine and The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, which also endorses her Say What You Mean curricula. You can also find JoJo on web sites such as Crosswalk.com and Dr.Laura.com. For more information on communication FUNdamentals and Christian-based communication skills for the whole family, please visit http://www.ArtofEloquence.com