Being Critical of Others Is a Poisonous Pleasure

plank eye

In an old issue of Leadership Journal, Haddon Robinson retells the story of a talented young musician who was crestfallen as he sat reading the critics’ stinging reviews of his recent concert.

But an older and much more accomplished musician, the famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, comforted the young man by patting him on the back, “Remember, son, there is no city in the world where they have erected a statue to a critic.”

That’s at least part of what Jesus was saying in these verses from the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-3).

J. B. Phillips, in his paraphrase, puts it this way: “Don’t criticize people, and you will not be criticized.”

That’s both very hard and very freeing. And it’s something we very much need to hear.

We’re all familiar with Jesus’ words, but we easily push them to the backs of our minds when we take up the role of self-appointed judges, critics, of our neighbor next door, or our co-worker on the job, or the lady sitting on the other side of the pew. Criticism, you see, is the most common form of judging.

But Jesus makes fun of judges like us: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and fail to notice the 2 X 4 plank in your own?”

It’s one thing to offer kindly and wise advice, the sort bought only by long experience, to someone we’re charged to teach or train or mentor.

It’s another thing entirely to spend all of our time giving others the “stink eye” and appraising them from a jaundiced perspective. The eye, Jesus says, is “the window of the body.” If I’m looking at the world through dark glasses, I shouldn’t be surprised if the whole world takes on a dark hue.

It’s frighteningly easy for me to become the self-appointed judge of everything and everyone around me. I sit in the reviewing stand watching the world go by and mentally taking notes of the marks I award to each person who parades by for my inspection. Without the benefit of a court or presidential appointment, and certainly with no divine mandate, I ascend to the cardboard bench of my own making and judge while the world goes by.

And don’t do much else, of course. The most severe critics, the most harsh and unrelenting, are always those who actually do the least to foster improvement. When we’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope, we don’t want things to improve because, if they did, we’d have to be happy, and, when we’re in this mode, being happy is the last thing we want. We might have to stop criticizing.

Allowing myself to harbor a judgmental spirit is an amazingly effective way to chase away the happiness of myself and others. Jesus simply says, “Don’t do it.” For most of us, judging ourselves is task enough. And if I really care about receiving mercy, I’d better be very busy indeed giving it.


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Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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