Tell the Truth

I’m writing this post because of inspiration provided by comments from my readers. Thank you, readers!

Recently I blogged about seasoning our words with salt. If you haven’t read the comments on that blog, I recommend you do because they are insightful and uplifting.

That post referred mainly to social media, but this post applies to all parts of life, and even to some fiction. For example, one writer, Joanna Davidson Politano,  shared that a couple of her characters struggle with how to convey the truth in love. I think this is a great way to share with readers how their personal struggles with the tongue can play out in reality. Telling the truth is an amazing, sometimes surprising, power of fiction.

“When someone shows you who they are believe them, the first time.” – Maya Angelou

I’ve been insulted by people saying outright they were “just telling the truth.” But their “truth” was merely unhelpful criticism delivered without an ounce of love or humility. From that point forward, I avoided these people. On the plus side, it was for my benefit that I learned quickly that they didn’t care about me. And to everyone’s benefit, that knowledge freed me to focus on those who did, and do.

Does this mean I’m too perfect to be criticized, and that no criticism of me is worthwhile or valid? Absolutely not. And by being the recipient of criticism from people who didn’t care about me, who delivered their verdicts bluntly, with no encouragement offered, I learned to do my best not to criticize without need and certainly not without humility or love. Am I perfect in this? Of course not. But at least I have learned to be cognizant.

“Never come forward to give thine own opinion about anything unless asked to do so, or charity requires it.” – St. Teresa of Avila

Following this maxim is a form of self-control, a fruit of the spirit. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Giving in to the urge to tell someone off or simply to offer your devastating opinion feels great, doesn’t it? It also demonstrates a lack of self-control, and damages relationships. Perhaps with some people, you’re beyond the point of caring. I won’t deny that sometimes a severe opinion is justified. However, if you hold the person in low esteem, she senses that and chances are she stopped listening to you long ago, so sharing your opinion won’t produce good fruit. Save your seed planting for those who will listen.

Since the Lord works in surprising ways, you both might want to restore the relationship later. The more upsetting exchanges you have, the harder restoration will be.

Because all humans have opinions, we struggle with how and when to share them. Before diving in, ask:

Do I have the type of relationship with the person that means he’ll be receptive to my ideas?

Is the comment necessary to improve the person’s health and welfare?

Does the comment impart Biblical truth, or is it simply my personal viewpoint?

Will imparting this truth have positive eternal consequences, so sharing it is urgent?

Habit

Try to censor yourself every day. Some of my proudest moments are when I remained silent.

Develop the habit of communicating the truth with a gentle spirit. Acknowledge your faults. Perhaps you share the same struggle as the person you’re talking to. If so, admit it.

Share your opinions with people you are in relationship with. Let these people know that you care about them. I’ve experienced at least one person who never had a kind word for me, but gleefully seized every opportunity to say something mean and negative. For me, he illustrated Corinthians 1:13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

Let your loving voice be reminiscent of the harp of an angel.

Your turn:

How have you benefited from criticism?

What is your response to unjustified criticism?

What tips can you offer for sharing criticism?

Do any of your characters struggle with a critical spirit?

22 Responses to Tell the Truth

  1. Brennan McPherson April 6, 2017 at 3:23 am #

    This is great advice, Tamela, and you shared it with thoughtfulness and care. I’ve struggled too much in the past with being blunt and offensive toward people, and have had to do a whole lot of repenting and growing out of it. Still not perfect, of course, but it seems to me that this is a problem we all have, especially reading the book of James. Scripture says we will be known by our love for one another. And if love is made real through action, as the book of James says, then we’ll speak to each other with kindness. I’m reminded of an August Burns Red lyric that says, “Your mouth is like a grenade. How many have you pushed away, and how many have you saved?” At the secular college I went to, I was horrified to find a man standing at the clocktower with a sign that said, “Gays go to hell,” yelling insults at people and telling them they need to repent or burn. I kindly told the man he needs to re-read the Scriptures to re-discover how to evangelize, and he claimed (without batting an eye) that I’ve never read the Bible and need to repent. Wow. How wrong he was. With people like this making us look hateful, we should struggle all the more to be loving toward each other, and toward people we disagree with. But boy is it hard to walk it out! Only with the Spirit. . .

  2. Loretta Eidson April 6, 2017 at 5:48 am #

    Some people tell me I’m a push-over because I won’t argue. It’s not that I won’t, it’s that I choose to hold my tongue, so I don’t have to deal with regrets later. I hang on to the verse ‘a soft answer turns away wrath.’ Yes, I’ve encountered critical people. One was a family member who twisted every word that came out of my mouth. Talk about challenging. Then, there was a man at my church who constantly tested my patience. He pushed me to the point where I had to respond. I held a soft tone but spoke firmly. My knees shook as I spoke truth to him. His mouth dropped, and he apologized. I find a lot of critical people are insecure, so I try to compliment them and the one’s they criticize while standing in front of them. That can be a challenge as well. Others…it just makes more sense to stay away from.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray April 6, 2017 at 12:22 pm #

      Wow, Loretta, that tip about complimenting a critical person publicly is great, and hard to follow! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Connie Almony April 6, 2017 at 6:01 am #

    I used to be a counselor who specialized in treating eating disorders. One of the things that surprised me most was when one girl in a therapy group mentioned how she hated it when people would compliment her, noticing she had lost weight. Though many would think that’s what a girl with an eating disorder WANTS to hear, everyone in that therapy group (me included) somehow related. After processing their discomfort, we all came to the realization that we were tired of being in relationships that seemed built on judging (even in a GOOD way) before trying to become part of that person’s world. We didn’t like it when the first thing a person did was scan our bodies for evaluation before they asked how we were doing. It’s like the beautiful children’s story “You Are Special” by Max Lucado. (If you’ve never read it, definitely find yourself a copy! Page 13 always makes me cry) We all just want to be loved, no matter how imperfect we are. Once we have that, maybe we will then feel worthy of the effort to improve ourselves. That’s what God does for us. He tells us we are loved enough that He sent His Son to die for us, and then He gives us the means (the Holy Spirit) with which to grow.

  4. Sandra Allen Lovelace April 6, 2017 at 6:58 am #

    I appreciate the perspective to consider not only what we receive, but what we hand out.

    My favorite line, “Save your seed planting for those who will listen.”

  5. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser April 6, 2017 at 7:06 am #

    I’ve learned that the harshest and most unfair criticisms are those I save for myself.

  6. Glenda April 6, 2017 at 7:19 am #

    Hi, Tamela-What a great reminder to pray “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” -Psalm 19:4

    So, I’ve benefited most from constructive criticism from those I trust and respect. However, even unsolicited comments from others give me pause…is what they are saying true? Yes? Reflect further. No? Dismiss and move one.

    A loving voice that soothes like a harp, yes!

    Pondering your post, and grateful for it. 🙂

  7. Carol Ashby April 6, 2017 at 8:08 am #

    My first conscious response to criticism is to ask myself is there some truth in what the critic is saying. Even an enemy can tell you something that helps you improve. Sometimes only an enemy will.

    Then I fold in what I know of the person and what makes them criticize in a particular way. I had one manager who could never talk with his direct reports even about something they did really well without making some negative dig. I learned from a passing remark he made once that that his own father had been very much the same. No matter how successful he was (and he was successful), it was never good enough for his father. That toughened my own skin against what I’d thought was just his mean streak. It was mainly a failure to know how to give feedback because he’d lived in a toxic world as a child.

    My first emotional response…sometimes it hurts quite a bit, but then it’s time to shake it off, forgive (This is crucial for peace of mind and a command that we have to follow even when it’s hard!), and move on.

  8. Sheri Dean Parmelee April 6, 2017 at 8:49 am #

    Tamela, I was being criticized by an older woman from my church a long time ago. she would send me articles on parenting, with the admonition that “this will make you a better mother.” Her kids were all perfect, which was convenient for her, but my boys were strong-willed. I felt that her advice could have been given to me with a much better spirit. BTW, my boys both turned into fine, godly men.

  9. Wendy L Macdonald April 6, 2017 at 10:00 am #

    Tamela, these words of yours are notable and quotable: Some of my proudest moments are when I remained silent.
    As a wife and mother, I find silence is often the best safeguard for loving relationships.
    Criticism is best cushioned with kindness and sweetened with sincere compliments. This is my favorite kind of critique to receive too. 🙂

    Blessings ~ Wendy

  10. rochellino April 6, 2017 at 10:04 am #

    Most of the time I try to “hold my peace”. To this day however there a certain lines that , when crossed, I feel a duty to speak up or more if necessary. First and foremost I can’t remain silent (which implies tacit approval) in the face of outright blasphemy. I rebel against hate speech toward Christians. Jokes about God cause me to bristle like out pitbull rescue.

    Secondly, I have spoken up to men (sometimes groups of) who I don’t know that loudly use filthy language (particularly the F bomb) in public places where women and children have to suffer their ignorance. I have been quietly thanked by people who were distressed by this behavior but didn’t speak up themselves.

    Lastly, on occasion I have cut off business transactions that were beneficial to me for these same reasons. Possessing human embodiment at this time I am painfully aware that I am still a work in progress on many fronts.

    Proverbs 19:25

    Flog a mocker, and the simple will learn prudence; rebuke the discerning, and they will gain knowledge.

    Great post Tamela, God Bless!

  11. Angela Breidenbach April 6, 2017 at 10:20 am #

    Fantastic post, Tamela! I think we’ve all received both types of criticism. One I found helpful was when an agent (he knows who he is, lol) gave me a list of things to do to improve my craft. I took that list and systematically did it. I keep working on it regularly. But in getting that critique, it was not only for my good but has ended up putting you and I together for several contracts. My favorite moment was the shock a year later when I told him I’d taken 2 classes a month in order to master that list. Steve told me he’d never had that happen before. The key for me is to take the criticism as passively as possible. Set it aside for as long as it takes to take the emotion out (usually a few days). Then I go at it in an objective business-like mode. If it’s something I can act on, I do. If it’s ambiguous, non-actionable, I realize it was likely opinion and toss it.

    A completely different agent insulted me with preferences and opinions. The lessen for me was that person didn’t have the style I wanted to be associated with for my career. Sometimes sandpaper smooths rough edges. Sometimes it’s just splintered, rotten wood. Learning the difference is sometimes painful when the splinters go in deep. I choose to avoid that when possible 🙂

    • Angela April 6, 2017 at 10:23 am #

      Oh how I hate auto correct on iPhones 🙂
      Lesson, not lessen. Though it could be subconscious targeting to lessen the personalization of opinions 😉

  12. Peggy Booher April 6, 2017 at 10:26 am #

    Tamela,

    Thanks for this discussion on criticism and both sides of it–giving and receiving. I’m trying to practice withholding my opinion unless asked for it, and when asked, to think before I speak. (Not easy!)

    My tips on giving criticism are: make the effort to find something positive to say, and when giving the criticism, offer ways to improve. So often people just dump criticism on you, but don’t suggest any concrete ways to do things better.

    It seemed to me my father used to do that, and while he probably meant it as encouragement, I took it as discouragement. Years later, I realized that was probably the model he had while growing up, and so he passed it on to me, since you can only give what you already have. I also realized that I’m probably a bit too sensitive for my own good.

    An antidote to criticism , as Connie pointed out in a comment above, is to consider my self-worth in the way God does. He loves me, He created me and His Son died for me. His evaluation of my worth does not rest on my performance in anything. What a relief to me, because historically my sense of self-worth rested on how well I did something. If I live in God’s evaluation, I take a much better view of criticism–extract what’s good, and either dismiss the rest or turn it over to God.

  13. Melissa Henderson April 6, 2017 at 11:58 am #

    I have learned to “pray before I speak”. There are times when I don’t need to speak at all. Listening can be a blessing to the other person and to me, too. Criticism can be painful at times and yet, it can also be a learning opportunity. I have a friend who kept telling me how to be a good mother-in-law. Instead of being upset with this friend, I kept listening to her and gleaned some very important ways to show our daughter-in-law how much we love her.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray April 6, 2017 at 12:23 pm #

      I’m glad you were able to overcome the tone and intent to find good advice.

  14. Tamela Hancock Murray April 6, 2017 at 12:32 pm #

    Reading through these comments, I can’t help but wonder if it’s not always the words themselves, but the tone and inflection that sends the message.

    It’s easy to assume that a person who seems negative is always negative when in reality, they might just be trying to advise. They might not realize you feel they are criticizing you.

    Giving advice can make a person feel important, like they are contributing. But advice isn’t always welcome. I remember giving a friend, someone I’m on good terms with, some advice awhile back and I got bitten. I was sharing because I genuinely care. But I suppose the friend felt the advice was more about me sharing my knowledge than it was about them. At least, that’s how they seemed to feel.

    I give advice as an agent every day, but in my personal life, I’ve pretty much stopped giving advice at all.

  15. Iola April 6, 2017 at 8:33 pm #

    This is possibly off-topic, but I’ll ask anyway. Your quote from St. Teresa interested me …

    “Never come forward to give thine own opinion about anything unless asked to do so, or charity requires it.”

    Is this why many people are reluctant to review books? Because we’ve been raised to keep our opinions to ourselves?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray April 7, 2017 at 5:57 am #

      Iola, I don’t believe a book review falls into what she’s saying. But if you’re reluctant, I see no reason for you to review books.

  16. Loyd Uglow April 8, 2017 at 4:49 pm #

    Tamela, I apologize for being so late in sending this comment. Your post was excellent and thought provoking. I think the topic of truthful criticism is especially relevant for us as writers when we are part of critique groups. One thing I’ve been trying to do when it comes to offering criticism of the writing of others in my group is to take into account their genres and their target audiences, which may be far different than mine. I might never want to read anything in their genres, but I need to comment on their work based on the likes of their audience, not my own preferences.

  17. Dave Fessenden April 9, 2017 at 6:38 am #

    Tamela, thank you for a timely reminder. I think one of the hardest things for me is to be sure I really am speaking the truth. It doesn’t matter how loving I say it if I’ve let my heart color the situation — and “the heart is deceitful above all things.” And on the other end, I have to realize that when I receive criticism, the person may just be honestly wrong — they don’t fully understand the situation or the details. So it is OK for me to gracefully ignore advice or criticism, if I can be sure I have honestly and humbly evaluated it. And there is no need for me to be mad at the person who gives me wrong advice — I have to assume they are doing it in love. Paul was going to Jerusalem against the advice of so many of his friends (Acts 21:12), but he wasn’t angry at them, even though they begged him not to go.

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