My colleague, Dr. Fuller, insightfully wrote about expectations for ministers a few weeks ago, and I’d like to ponder the issue of making sure others maintain our standards, from a different angle.
And last fall I wrote a piece about how we’re often taught “Don’t judge” as a biblical truth without any reflection. I suppose this is the other side of that topic.
I hear this comment from time-to-time. Sometimes people are “too hard” on themselves, or so we’re told. Someone doesn’t quite reach a goal they’ve set or perhaps their performance didn’t reach the level they sought.
A soloist finishes her song dejected, realizing she missed a note at the key moment in the song. Or a player misses the shot at the buzzer, and the team loses. A deadline is missed or something important overlooked. The one responsible for the missed note, shot, or deadline is depressed, mad, sad or grieving, full of perhaps – when it’s in full bloom – something like self-loathing.
Someone rushes in with the apparent goal of soothing the pain, repairing the damage, with words designed to improve the situation. More than likely one or all of these phrases is deployed, as if wisdom from above:
“Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
“We all make mistakes.”
“You’re being too hard on yourself.”
“Give yourself a break.”
And then, if these prove unsuccessful in improving the situation, the secret 5-word recipe, the magic elixir is dispensed: “You’re your own worst critic.” Which – I think – is meant to convey: no one else is being as hard on you as you are. While I’m sure there are instances in life when this 5-word phrase is truly appropriate, I tend to think that most of the time it’s balderdash.
More often than not, we are not our own worst critic. We are – in a moment of reflective honesty – usually more forgiving of ourselves and more judgmental of others.
If I see a parent making what I think is a bad parenting decision I sometimes think: “Poor guy, he thinks he’s making a good decision, but he’s clearly not.” Of course, when I make a parenting mistake, it’s due to unforeseen, unrepeatable circumstances. Under normal ones, I I always make the best decision (or so I say to myself by way of consolation).
When a colleague misses a deadline, they are lazy or clearly uncommitted. When I miss one, it’s because I had something really, really important that caused me to miss it, and I dismiss the missed deadline (after all, I’m really busy, I tell myself).
When someone doesn’t reach their potential they need to try harder. When I don’t, it’s because well you get the idea… My list of excuses goes on and on and on and on.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think generally most of us have radars that quickly pick up on others’ deficiencies with acute perceptivity, but we have an innate ability to pass over our own too quickly. We either are not aware or we choose to minimize. The result is the same: we are not our own worst critics. We are very good critics of everyone else, and very good at rationalizing our own behavior.
Something like this seems to be what Jesus has in mind in his discussion about specks and logs in the sermon on the mount.
We too quickly overlook our faults and flaws and focus on the faults and flaws of others. In other words, I’m a harsh and insightful (and always correct) critic of others and grade on a curve when evaluating my own performance.
Let me be abundantly clear: I think high expectations are important, but it’s because they’re important that I think we owe it to ourselves and those around us to hold ourselves to the same standard.
Now, this entire post may apply just to me, and if so, you can quickly dismiss this post with this closing thought (whispered quietly to yourself): “I’d never write a post like this. My posts are always helpful, appropriate, and timely.”
Dr. Neal earned a BA in Political Science from Texas Tech University. He then pursued theological and ministerial training and is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDivBL), and the University of Edinburgh, Scotland (MTh; PhD). He is married to Jennifer, and they have four children.
Dr. Neal’s teaching and research focuses on the relationship between biblical interpretation and theology. His Ph.D. research focused on systematic theology, specifically questions raised in contemporary German theology. He is the author of Theology As Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of Jurgen Moltmann’s Doctrine of Hope, and has published a variety of essays, articles, and chapters on theological topics. Dr. Neal has presented papers in several academic venues in England, Scotland, New Zealand, and the United States. Most recently he presented a paper on eschatology at the University of Notre Dame.