Criticism brings other people down, while encouragement lifts them up. It seems logical that it should be easier to buoy their spirits than to attack them, but sometimes we slip into criticism mode without even thinking about its effect. In reality, it hurts us as much as it hurts others because being negative is a drain on the spirit.
That doesn’t mean there’s never a time and a place for criticism. Jesus was critical when He felt it was necessary. He was blunt at times with His Apostles. He was working under great pressure and knew that His time with them was limited, which forced Him at times to be direct. However, whenever possible, His style focused more on instructing the Apostles and others with parables and examples. Instead of telling them what they were doing wrong and harshly spelling things out to them, He shared wisdom and let them come to their own understanding.
We see how Jesus rejects criticism and judgment in the story of the adulteress who was about to be put to death. In the Book of John, He admonishes the mob.
So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. —John 8:7, KJV
Since none of us is without sin, we have no right to be harsh critics. Indeed, Jesus treated the accused woman with kindness and encouragement:
When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. —John 8:10-11, KJV
He simply advised her to move on and to live a better life.
Actually, the fact that we’re all sinners puts us in a better position to encourage others. Hopefully the woman in the Book of John learned from her mistakes and took Jesus’ encouragement to heart.
Unfortunately, we often fall into the “criticism trap.” We cut others down, often without meaning to do so, instead of giving them an encouraging nudge in the right direction. For example, parents want their children to do well in school, so they often turn report card day into a nail-biting ordeal. The trembling youngster waits nervously while Mom and Dad review the grades, and they immediately focus on the worst. The child faces a barrage of criticism that does nothing but make him or her feel bad, embarrassed and even unloved.
It’s so much more effective to focus on the good first and give that youngster encouragement in the areas where he or she did well. Then comes encouragement to improve in the problem areas. Instead of criticizing, encourage that child to share why he or she is struggling in certain subjects. Then, encourage him or her to come up with possible solutions. It’s not easy to suppress your instinct to lock on the negative and go into criticism mode, but you can easily see how a positive approach will get better results.
The same holds true with adults. In the workplace, many supervisors find it easier to have a harsh tongue. This just fosters an attitude of anger and resentment. The workers might respond, but they’re doing it because they need their jobs and have no choice. This whole bleak atmosphere can be transformed by the use of encouragement. The boss can still let people know what needs to be fixed or changed, but in a way that involves them and makes them partners in the process.
And what about your spouse? No one wants to live with a person who constantly nags and criticizes. Over the years, you might fall into a routine where you spout off criticism without even thinking about it. This wears at the other person’s spirit like water wears away at a stream bed. You don’t see the results immediately, but the change is profound over time. God gives us a partner to support and encourage, not to tear down.
Once you see how much more effective it is to encourage than criticize, encouragement will became your natural reaction. It’s more positive and effective, and it leaves everyone with good feelings instead of hurt.