Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Little Negativity Goes A Long Way

13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. -- Galatians 5:13–15 (NASB95)
Shortly before Dallas Willard died from cancer in 2013, Pastor John Ortberg asked him, "Do you regret anything?" Willard answered, "I regret the time I have wasted." -- Adapted from John Ortberg, Soul Keeping (Zondervan, 2014), pp. 186-817
There's a fascinating article written by James Clear titled, "Haters and Critics: How to Deal with People Judging You and Your Work" (you can read it by clicking HERE).  I say it's fascinating because the writer has managed to find a way to look at criticism positively. I don't mean he likes it, but he's managed to turn it into something other than a life-crusher. Read his article. It's very good.

I think it's fascinating also because it addresses something all too common in today's communication between people. There is a harshness alive today that wasn't always present. Well, maybe it was present, but it didn't seem to be quite as bad as it has become.

It's behind the bullying you've heard about rampant among school-age children. It abounds in Internet communications of all kinds. If you're a blog reader have you read the comments that follow many articles? There will be, perhaps, a good number of positive comments reflecting agreement or something a reader has appreciated or found helpful. Then there are the bashers! It will range from disagreement to character assassination, and it's done in increasingly harsh tones. A lot of bloggers are now turning off the comments section because it's not worth the hassle.

But this is nothing new. Hate, spite, bitterness, slander, even outright lying about people has been around just about as long as people have existed. A theologian might say that it's part of our fallen nature. I'm sure! There is a negative, hurtful, destructive bug in us somewhere, and none of us are completely innocent. Give me the right situation and I can rant with the best.

One of my favorite sections of James Clear's article uses a quote from Mario Andretti, famous race car driver. Here's what he wrote:
Many racing experts consider Mario Andretti to be the most successful and versatile racing driver of all-time. During his career, Andretti won the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500, Formula One World Championship and the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb. He is one of only two drivers in history to win races in Formula One, IndyCar, World Sportscar Championship, and NASCAR.
During an interview with SUCCESS magazine, Andretti was asked for his number one tip for success in race car driving. He said, “Don’t look at the wall. Your car goes where your eyes go.”
When young drivers are starting to race, this is one of the most critical lessons that they learn. When you’re driving at 200mph you need to focus on the road in front of you. If you look at the wall, then you’ll end up hitting it.
The same could be said for your life, your work, and dealing with critics.
Criticism and negativity from other people is like a wall. And if you focus on it, then you’ll run right into it. You’ll get blocked by negative emotions, anger, and self-doubt. Your mind will go where your attention is focused. Criticism and negativity don’t prevent you from reaching the finish line, but they can certainly distract you from it.
However, if you focus on the road in front of you and on moving forward, then you can safely speed past the walls and barriers that are nearby.
"Don't look at the wall. Your car goes where your eyes go." Exactly. If negativity does anything, it takes our focus off what we're doing, where we want to go, and how we plan to get there. That's precisely what negative people want you to do. When people criticize you, dump a bunch of negative, name-calling, and character assassination on you, they're really trying to get you to stop whatever it is you're doing.

Perhaps there are times when all of us need a good critic to force us to rethink things. We don't always get everything right the first time. But so much of the negative bashing isn't "constructive" at all. I've learned to always beware of the person who says, "I'd like to give you a little constructive criticism." It's seldom constructive.

Sadly, some of the most negative, fault-finding, critical, and generally unloving people I've ever known are Christians. I'm sad to say this, but it's true. And it seems that the general public has picked up on this. Researchers are telling us that some of the biggest reasons people are turned off to Christianity and the church, in general, is that God's people thought to be harsh, judgmental, and far too critical of others.

The apostle Paul had it right when he wrote to the churches of Galatia. Bite and devour one another and you'll destroy one another. The answer, of course, is no secret. Paul would urge us to practice the fruit of the Spirit, among such are things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That's not the entire list, you see. There are other things "like" these that would be very helpful in defeating the destroying elements.

But we don't seem to be making much progress. Many years ago a man told me something I'll never forget. He said, "If I don't leave church feeling like I've been scalded, I don't feel like I've been to church." I thought then, and I still think today, some preacher convinced him that was the way church ought to make him feel. To me, that is one of the saddest views of church I've ever heard.

Recently I read someone (I forgot who!) suggest that we try going 24 hours without saying a single negative word to anybody, about anybody or anything. That might be a good exercise. You willing to try it? What makes this whole subject so important is that a little negativity goes a long way. You could have dozens of people brag on you, but one critic will occupy your mind for days. The vast majority can be very pleased with your work, or you as a person, but let one knucklehead judge you as worthless and it will stay with you for days.

I wish it were not so, but it is. Cruel, hurtful, demeaning, crushing words are powerful. Christians should not perpetuate this problem. We ought to be the ones whose words and actions are just the opposite. If you're one of the people always finding something wrong with everything, you need to repent. If you're the target of this sinful behavior, all I can say is, "Don't look at the wall." That's easier said than done, but I firmly believe it's time we do not allow the critics to rule the world.