As a priest I have had to cope with lots of criticism from parishioners, and this can be very hurtful. After all when one is criticised the immediate reaction is to defend oneself, especially if the criticism is unfair or has been presented in an unloving way. This is certainly my reaction. Christians however are meant to find positive ways of dealing with life. We are meant to see the situation through the eyes of God rather than through our own, and so here is my suggestion of what we ought to aim to do, if only we could keep calm and control our distress or indignation.

Surely the most important thing to do, and yet the hardest, is to avoid retreating into a defensive position, to avoid drawing up the drawbridge and trying to justify ourselves. Instead we need to go out of our way to understand what the critic is saying, and why they are saying it. This is so hard to do when we feel hurt and under attack, but somehow in as gentle a way as possible we need to ask them what they can suggest to help remedy the situation or the activity that they are criticising. This not only helps you, as they may have some really helpful things to share, but may also help them to adopt a more constructive approach to things. Criticism can so often be just as much a projection on to you of their inadequacies, as an accurate assessment of the situation; and so turning what could be a confrontational situation into a co-operative one in which you discuss sensibly with them, and maybe with other people, ways of improving things is much more likely to be of help to both of you.

It is worth remembering too that people in positions of power over you are not always very good at using that power. It is all too easy for such people to say nothing, and then finally come out with something that is far more extreme than they intended. This is the same as in a Marriage where storing things up can lead to unhelpful outbursts. In the midst of feeling hurt by what they are saying, we need to think of why they are saying it. How often have we blurted out things without thinking of the consequences, and so making people stand by what they may have said, when they may not have meant it in the way they presented it, and then defending oneself far too vigorously just gets nowhere.

Sometimes, of course, we need to swallow our pride and start by admitting that we haven’t quite got it right, that we need help.  There is nothing better than an apology as a way of diffusing a situation, even if we are not convinced it is our fault; and this is a good way of then starting on this different discussion of what can be done to put things right. Often with parishioners, I would simply admit that I have failed to do what they wanted done because I was new to the parish or new to the situation, and thus turn them from a critic into sympathetic helper. That must surely be the aim.