Criticism as a defense mechanism: Don’t let it stop you from greatness!

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” -Aristotle

“Criticism is a natural by-product of success. Welcome it!”


“Would you like to donate $1 to Muscular Dystrophy Research?”

I think I was at Safeway when I was asked this question. Or was it Carl’s Jr.? Or was it Taco Bell? Or was it Roth’s?
Oh, right, it was probably all of them.

“No, thank you.” But then my inner pretend-sociologist kicked in. “Hey, out of curiosity, when someone says no, how do they usually respond?” I asked the clerk.

She half-smiled, half-sighed. With an exasperated look, she answered my question. “Oh, lots of different ways. Sometimes they tell me their life story, and why they can’t donate. Sometimes, they list off all of the other things that they donate money to. Sometimes, they actually get frustrated at me just for asking! I’m just like ‘It’s okay to say no! It’s fine, I’m not judging you!’”


(Sidenote: Generosity is a hard topic for me to blog about, because of Jesus’s teachings on it. If I’m not generous, then I feel ashamed and I have to hide the fact that I’m not generous. But if I am generous, then Jesus basically tells me to shut up about it. So you can never know whether I’m generous or stingy, because I won’t tell you. Oh well.)


Here’s what I found so interesting in her response: Why would anyone get mad at Safeway for doing a good thing? “Oh, there’s probably a few people, not too many.” But no, the Safeway clerk said otherwise. It’s common, strangely. Even if they don’t get mad, they get defensive.



What we found here was this, and ask any clerk who has asked anyone to donate a dollar to (insert non-profit here) if this is true or not: A successful fundraiser/action/donation/etc. draws out a defensive reaction from people. Why?


Actually, I’ve come to find it’s much bigger than just fundraisers.


Any success, whether moral/financial/business/personal, draws out a defensive reaction from people. And that is often where criticism comes from.


In fact, think about this! If somebody takes a good, selfless, charitable action, such that a critic couldn’t find anything wrong with it, the critic falls back on this tried and true tactic: suggesting a different good action that the person should have taken, in lieu of the one that they did!
For example, have you ever heard this classic line at church? “Missions, missions, missions. All this talk about missions. We have plenty of needs right here in our neighborhood. What about those?”

Are you kidding me? As though donating to missions or doing missions work is a bad thing or something?

Nobody is shouting it from the rooftops…but I’m going to venture a dangerous guess that will never be confirmed or denied. What do you want to bet that the person who brings up this criticism is not donating money to either domestic needs or missions work?

It is simply that the call to action, and the celebration of others’ good actions, draws a defensive reaction from people.


We could go for hours with examples. But what I want to point out is that in all aspects of our lives, success draws criticism.

Publicly gush about how great your wife is on Facebook? You’re showboating. Showing off your marriage. I’ll bet you have issues that you’re hiding. Who you trying to impress?

Gush about your kids? “Oh, just wait until they’re teenagers. You’re in for it.”

Make money and buy yourself something? “Oh, that money SHOULD have been spent like blah-blah-blah”

Make money and do something good with it? “Oh, I don’t know why you’re donating money to X when you could be donating money to Y.”



Those who take action or go public in any way open themselves up for criticism. It is unavoidable.

But this is what I believe to be the biggest tragedy: When somebody, somewhere, doesn’t take a good action for fear of being criticized. And I believe that this does, in fact, happen.

I always liked to answer questions and ask questions in youth group growing up, in Bible studies, etc. But then, as we talked about Pharisees and about how they loved to be seen by men, it caused a question to cross my mind…

“Carson, what if you’re raising your hand just to be seen? Just for attention?”

It was a good question. I mean, I’m not shy…I do enjoy the limelight. I do enjoy the attention. So does that mean I need to put my hand down? And stop talking?

Just as I was considering stepping back a little bit, someone talked to me. “Hey, I like the questions you ask, and your thoughts. I’m always glad when you show up for the Bible study.”

So I made the decision that day: For me to not raise my hand because people might perceive me as too attention grabby? That concern about how others would perceive me was, in fact, actually self-centered. When there is a good thing to be done, good words to say, then I should take the action. Haters gonna hate.




I was reading an article about “second-level thinking” (whatever that means…I’m still learning about it) and there was a new concept I hadn’t thought about before. “First level thinking deals with isolated incidents, second level thinking deals with probabilities.”

If I suggested a change to how we run our martial arts school, then good thinkers would not just “accept” it. However, the “first-level” thinker would think of that one person who wouldn’t like the change, and why they wouldn’t like it. The “second-level” thinker might think the same thing, but they would think “okay, how often is that concern likely to come up, and do we gain more than we are likely to lose if that concern comes up often?”

Therefore, according to this concept, the “first-level thinker” would let that one person, that one possibility, that one criticism, stop them. The second-level thinker doesn’t go in blindly, but it takes more than one kink to stop them.



To the dreamer/fighter/entrepreneur in all of us: Don’t let the critic get you down. And, in fact, don’t even try to avoid criticism. Choose who you want to be and go dominated it. Know that you WILL get criticized, and that if you aren’t getting criticized, you aren’t accomplishing anything.

To the critic in all of us, and yes, I know it’s present within me: Any of us can be careless instead of careful with our words. Here’s what I know…I don’t want to be the one who stopped someone from doing something great because they didn’t want to be criticized by me.

I don’t want anybody to hold back or not try something because they thought they would look silly or stupid in my eyes. I want to be someone who spurs people to take action and try new things, not someone who inhibits them and makes them feel self-conscious.


“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24 (NIV)


“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)

Freedom from Freedom: Relational Freedom (Part 1 – From Macro to Micro)

The Thesis: When we pursue freedom, we lose freedom. When we give up freedom, we gain freedom.

A rule in macro-sociology: Everyone loves freedom…for themselves

The examples of this are countless. We are free because soldiers give up their freedoms to protect us. The restrictions of the red light keeps me safe from traffic accidents. In fact, the concept is true for all government: Freedom is exchanged for security…and security is exchanged for freedom. Both are good…but not to extremes. (Total freedom = anarchy, total security = totalitarianism) Yet…can anarchy truly be called freedom?

For some, yes. In fact, this leads to one of my favorite quotes, a quote that players of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare would sometimes see upon their deaths:

“Every tyrant who has lived has believed in freedom…for himself.” – Elbert Hubbard

It makes sense, doesn’t it? America sang and sang about freedom for years while deciding whether slaves should be counted in a land’s population, eventually resulting in the “2/5’s rule”, saying that two fifth’s of a state’s slave population actually counted towards the population when deciding how many electoral votes that state should have. Oh, America believed in freedom all right…for white people.

Ancient Romans believed in freedom…for Roman citizens. Just look at what happened to the Apostle Paul in Acts: 16: 16-40. Paul was beaten and flogged, but then, later on in verses 37-39, we learn that if they had known that Paul was a Roman citizen, he would’ve gotten a “get out of flogging free” card. Rome believed in freedom…unless you ask the Britons who were paying them tribute and STILL getting invaded.

Sinful human nature craves freedom…but it does not care at whose expense it must come. Let us be different.


But enough of the macro-sociology. I believe that this same concept, loving out freedoms at the expense of others’ freedoms, is found in our personal relationships as well. And unchecked, I believe that it has destroyed countless relationships.


Remember “taking turns” as a kid? THAT’S our door into understanding this idea. Let me tell you a story. In second and third grade, I had a friend whose house I always went over to. Both of us had a Sega Genesis…but he always had the Sonic the Hedgehog games. So we would go over to his house to play them. But the turns always looked like this.

Friend: “Hey, Carson! Let’s play Sonic! I’ll go first, and then it’s your turn!”

Carson: “Okay!”

Friend, upon ending his turn: “I’m bored. Let’s go outside.”

Carson, who never got a turn: “……..okay.”

And yes, after playing outside for about 5 minutes, he would want to come back inside, where his turn would inevitably come first.


So, as we enter into the topic of “relational freedom”, let me put this theory forward.


In a social setting, one’s “freedom” almost always is at the expense of another person’s freedom.

Depressing sounding, right? I do not mean to imply that any time you are enjoying something, everyone around you is not enjoying something. Rather, this is where the art of “compromise” comes into play. And when we talk about “compromise,” I want you, reader, to remember the last post about the freedom of discipline. When one practices compromise, it gets easier and easier. When one is not used to compromising, it is very difficult.


And we shall continue this one next post, as we talk about friendships, roommates, and all sorts of relationships.

Onion Theory: I want to be trustworthy

…and trustworthy means more than “I will keep your secrets and not tell people.” It means more than “I will do what I say I will do.”

It means…well…worthy of trust. If someone trusts me, I want to treat them well.

Socialization is always a two-way process. You teach people how to treat you (without even knowing it!), and people teach you how to treat them. So, to put it simply, in order to be the type of person that people trust, you must reward them for trusting you. This is the opposite of punishing them for trusting you.

So here are some guidelines that I have learned from watching people.

1. Be wise and careful making corrections.

As a taekwondo instructor, I once saw a diagram of four types of students, and how they should be treated. With searching (The internet changed the world, did it not?), I found that this is referred to as “Situational Leadership Theory”. Check this out…

If the student has low motivation and low competence: Direct them

If the student has low motivation and high competence: Support them (Be less task-oriented and more relationship-oriented)

If the student has high motivation and low competence: Teach them

If the student has high motivation and high competence: Delegate to them

I bring up this example not necessarily to apply it but to illustrate an attempt as wisdom in an approach. As a taekwondo instructor, if a high motivation/low competence student makes a mistake, and I punish/discipline them for that mistake, I am an idiot…that decision is a) totally unnecessary because, since they are high motivation, simply telling them would fix the technique and b) will kill their motivation. However, if a kid who is pretty good at taekwondo, pretty competent, is slacking off, I need to approach it differently, do I not?

So before we make any rash decisions about what to do if someone chooses to trust us, we need to evaluate the scenario with wisdom. Will telling him to stop accomplish anything? How difficult was it to confess it in the first place? Is he looking for accountability? Does he need a kick-my-butt friend, or does he need a shoulder? Maybe he needs some Scripture. Maybe he needs encouragement.

As a taekwondo instructor, I have often encouraged a student who really, what they needed was a butt-kicking. However, more often I have seen people directed and bossed around when really, what they needed was a double-dose of encouragement.

2. Step back and actually put yourself in their shoes.

Paul, a 16 year old, just admitted to his parents that he has been having sex with his girlfriend. Paul is a Christian, as are his parents. So, put yourself in Paul’s shoes for a second. You will probably find…

a)      Admitting that to his PARENTS must’ve taken an immeasurable amount of courage.

b)      Since he admitted it, he probably already knows that it is wrong.

c)      Since he admitted it, he has taken an important action towards breaking free of this addiction.

d)      He probably feels trapped. He has probably tried to stop, but has fallen back into the temptation.

e)      There is probably a tension between him and his girlfriend, considering that they both have a secret. He will need all the emotional support he can get.

(In the above example, feel free to replace PARENTS with any word you want, like sister, brother, youth pastor, friend, teacher, whatever.)

Based on this, we can know that a) we don’t have to kick his butt, he is already kicking his own butt, and the Holy Spirit is probably working him over right now. Especially if he had the balls to tell you. b) we don’t need to tell him that it is wrong, or about the risks. He already knows.

What he needs is not for you to quote the “Flee from sexual immorality” verse but the “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” verse. And he needs to know that you are behind him, that you are there for him no matter what.

3. To trust is a difficult decision. Compliment them for it.

“Thanks for trusting me. That sounds like something that’s difficult to admit.”

“You’re a strong person, going through that.”

Some people are in the habit of punishing people for trust. You can punish them in several different ways. Correcting them when they haven’t asked for advice or trusted you with that task (that type of correction feels incredibly invasive), getting mad at them (whether it’s for something they admitted to doing wrong, or they just trusted you with their political position), or even just failure to listen.

Because remember: Getting mad at somebody or getting “offended” makes no correction in their behavior whatsoever. You didn’t correct their behavior, you “corrected” their honesty, their trust. You punished them for trusting you or for opening up to you, so they will probably make sure not to do that again.

Can you be the type of person who can survive this? Your wife tells you: “It FREAKING ANNOYS me when you leave the towel on the floor!” and you say “…thanks for telling me that.” It would take one heck of a man to do that. How about if your wife said it calmly? “Honey, it upsets me when you leave your towel on the floor.” Would you snap back at your wife? If you would, you are teaching her not to be honest with you.

Can you survive your girlfriend saying “Let’s just be friends” without complaining or playing the martyr? If so, you are a master at this.

In conversation, Fred says that “I don’t think abortion is wrong…some people shouldn’t be parents.” As a pro-lifer, do you get mad at him? If so, you don’t change his mind…you simply teach him that you are not somebody who he should have this conversation with.

Somebody at church says “I’m not really convinced that Jesus is the Son of God.” How do you handle it?

Can you reward trust, even in a tough scenario? Or do you punish trust?

I want to be the person who rewards it.