To Criticize or Compliment?

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Criticism and compliment are opposite. Criticism is disfavor toward. Compliment is favor toward. Neither is innately amoral. Both potentially stem from attitudes of love or hate. Both can bless or curse—the implications heavily dependent upon both the giver and receiver.

It may be a disquieting thought to us but essentially a person learns nothing useful from compliments. Even compliments free from ostentation are intended for what one has accomplished right. From that viewpoint, compliments are not really so expedient. A Christian should not expect affirmation from his peers. His affirmation comes from God when he does God’s will with his abilities. “...when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty...”

In contrast, when received correctly, criticism always holds something to learn because one has not accomplished that which was expected. There is always something useful in criticism whether the giver had pure motives or not. When this is our perception of these two opposites, it will help us understand them both in valuable ways.

Mark Twain’s quip that he could go two whole months on a good compliment no way mean all compliments are positive as sometimes supposed or that all criticisms are negative. Yet the gap between a critical remark or attitude vs. a complimentary remark or attitude as it affects our peers is wide. Criticism often pushes a person toward a path of offence and discouragement instead of encouragement.

Giving criticism is easy. It is inherent to man’s lower nature. Criticism is easy to give because someone else has “set the stage” by something they said or did. Criticism is often easy because one does not know all the circumstances involved. It often acts upon assumptions or surmising rather than knowledge. It is often deficient of the wisdom of comparison with the whole situation. Criticism seldom builds, but rather tends to tear down and destroy. While there are times when criticism is expedient, (from a personal point of view) we should be very cautious with criticism. By doing so, we could save ourselves many problems.

Affirmation lifts. It usually demonstrates interest, kindness, and benevolence. Compliments should be reserved for that which is done well, not for that over which individuals hold no control as color of eyes or attributes of hair. Given frankly, sincerely and liberally compliments can support, inspire, build respect, and hold up heavy hands. Out of a heartfelt spirit of encouragement, they potentially create benefit even though the very best was not accomplished. Often even a “not so well” done task may be due a sincere compliment of respectful confirmation.

We should not fear “overdoing” compliments in the same way as we should exercise carefulness in “handing out” criticism. Compliments received and proudly used by the receiver are their responsibility, not ours.

It is a Christian’s duty to pursue encouragement of his fellow men, not discouragement.