“Can I tell you something? I do not like what you said to me the other day.” And just like that, this person yanks you by the sleeve and shoves you beneath their critical microscope of human behaviour. No one is perfect. We sing it like a song about others and even ourselves. Therefore, as long as we live among human beings, our character flaws will show up from time to time. Friends and family members who hang around long enough will soon get to know who you really are – the good, the bad and the ugly. When the bad rears its head, it’s just a matter of time before someone shows up with a painful jab of admonition.
It’s interesting to observe how people respond when they get rebuked. The moment you open your mouth to speak, it is as if you trigger an automatic missile defense system in them. Intruder alert! Intruder alert! Rebuke incoming! Rebuke incoming! And before you can say “jollof rice”, walls of defense shoot high into the sky, gates are instantly clamped down, troops armed to the teeth are flung into the battle field and radars immediately start scanning for anything that can be used to block, deflect or even return the missile. We fight ferociously when we get rebuked, as if something precious is being taken away from us. But the truth is that when we get rebuked, something infinitely precious, of inestimable value is being GIVEN to us. We simply do not realise it.
Why do we respond the way we do to criticism? Some of us who were criticized excessively as children over time develop a reflex resistance to criticism. Others were pampered, spoilt as children so never learned to handle criticism. Some yet have a false, sometimes over-bloated self-image that they hold so dear and will resist with force anything that attempts to take it from them. What they don’t realise is what is being taken from them is like pus that’s being taken from a boil. The light of truth is getting shone on delusions.
Some derive self-validation from external sources and therefore only feel good about themselves when they are praised. A rebuke is the opposite of commendation so they reject it. Some get high on weed or alcohol, but there are those who get high on praise. Since they love praise so much, people who criticize or rebuke them are branded “haters”. Let us tell ourselves the truth. Not everyone who rebukes you is a hater. Some are actually trying to do you a favour.
Even more interesting is the fact that our response to criticism is totally unconscious. In that moment when the jabs are getting delivered, I really believe that most people are simply not aware of what they are doing. They could as well be soundly asleep. Think about it. Most times when we are suddenly rebuked, especially without warning, the reflex thing we do is resist. The reason why it is reflexive and unconscious is that we do not even pause to weigh what is being said to us. The reaction is brisk and lacks objective thought. The first thing that we experience is negative emotion. The amount of negative emotion we produce in response to a rebuke depends on the sort of person we are and how emotionally mature we are. How we respond to this combination of the noxious stimulus (i.e. the rebuke) and our emotional response distinguishes people who are skilled in handling admonishment and turning it into an advantage.
Anyone who rebukes you is giving you an advantage and this is why. No matter how sharp your vision is, you cannot see the back of your head unless you use a mirror or ask someone. There are certain aspects of your behaviour that you will never know in a million years unless someone opens his or her mouth to say it to you. We have to understand that most of the time, the people who rebuke us are under no obligation whatsoever to do so. No one employed them to correct you and they will not win a Nobel Prize for it. Everyone saw what this one person is seeing and they kept it to themselves, deciding to mind their business. This one person chose to bring into your awareness that which is common knowledge to everyone but you. You should not reward their honesty and good intention with resistance, revenge or emotional blackmail. If you understood the value of what they have given, you would thank them with tears of joy.
You cannot change what you don’t know. And if it is true that you truly have a character flaw that puts you at a disadvantage somehow, then not only do you need to become aware of it, you also need to fix it. The only person who stands to gain anything from a rebuke is the person getting rebuked. The rebuker opens his mouth to invest energy and emotions into your situation and gets absolutely nothing in return. You who are getting rebuked on the other hand have just been given insight into how the world sees and experiences you and are presented with an opportunity to change and become a better human being. Lucky you!
I must admit however that there are those among us who are bitter sadists and derive pleasure from putting others down. There are also fault-finders who criticize without justification. Some can only see how wonderful they are when they demonstrate to everyone how terrible everyone else is. I am not referring to the rebuke that comes from people such as these. But the question then arises: how on earth can we distinguish a rebuke that springs from genuine concern and good intention from that which is laden with malicious intent, whose sole purpose is to make you feel terrible about yourself? It’s quite simple. Just listen!
You’d be surprised that the vast majority hear rebukes but do not listen. It flies in through one ear and very quickly out the other. In fact, sometimes it doesn’t even cross the ear drum. You need to listen and carefully weigh what is being said for truth value. But how can you listen when at that very moment, your mind is suddenly suffocated with everything except careful consideration of what is being said to you? When someone is rebuking you, that is the wrong time to lashing back at the person for something they have done. If you do so, not only will you fail to communicate, you will miss out on the incredible opportunity that has just been given to you. If the person came with good intentions, you make them regret ever caring to speak up. “Why did I even bother?” your friend says, and stomps off. If this happens to often, you are in trouble and let me tell you why.
By resisting rebuke, you will gradually block all your potential sources of admonishment. How would it feel to live in a world where everyone sees your back is diseased but no one is willing to tell you what they see? And then you will gradually surround yourself with sycophants; people who understand that what you like (praise) and are willing to supply it and get what they want. It is tragic that some would rather be destroyed by praise than saved by criticism.
Next time a person bothers to criticize you, listen carefully, and weigh what is being said with an open heart. It doesn’t matter if what he or she says is correct about you. At least now you can see yourself through the eyes of another. More information means an increase in knowledge. Use it wisely and then it becomes an advantage. When you get rebuked, especially by someone you trust, say a heartfelt THANK YOU. So that tomorrow, they will come right back to give you yet again that incredible gift of criticism.
Written by Manny