I’ve begun reading through Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Though much of what Carnegie has to say is valuable, I had some misgivings about the first chapter.
Don’t Kick Over The Beehive
Carnegie’s first principle is “Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.”
He argues that even hardened criminals don’t criticize themselves or admit their actions are wrong; how much more so would normal people perceive their actions as right and justified? Criticism, he says, puts people on the defensive; wounds their “precious pride”; hurts their sense of importance; and arouses resentment. Instead, we ought to seek to understand, and then forgive.
At first blush, especially when reading it in his own words, this seems like good advice, and I’ve heard it repeated in other places. But I believe it misses some important Biblical wisdom.
2 Timothy 4:1–2
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
Paul charges Timothy to reprove, rebuke, and exhort the people of God, because they will wander after their own passions and find teachers who will tell them what they want to hear. He doesn’t seem to share Carnegie’s enthusiasm to “seek to understand and then forgive.”
That said, there’s no sense in serving up correction willy-nilly. As Proverbs says:
”Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.”
It’s kind of like when Jesus talked about casting your pearls before swine. Criticism can be immensely valuable, to the right kind of person. Given to the wrong kind of person, it can cause serious problems.
But even so, it’s not always out of place to correct a scoffer:
”Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence;
reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge.”
Even if he refuses to accept the reproof, those around him can still learn from it.
But let’s circle back up to the first passage: “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” Our criticism should always be patient, always with the goal of teaching and building up – never hasty or in anger.
And, conversely, we should always be ready to receive criticism ourselves – accepting it wisely, and increasing in learning.