My husband recently read a comment made by Clemson Tigers’ Head Coach Dabo Swinney. He was referring to critical comments made about him by a sports commentator. Mr. Swinney said, “You don’t worry about criticism from people you wouldn’t seek advice from.”
That quote has become a mantra and breath of fresh air for many who heard it and sensed that sudden light-bulb moment of truth: We don’t need to internalize cutting remarks, or feel offended by people whose advice we weren’t seeking in the first place.
Too many of us carry the burdens of criticism, those knife-in-the-heart harsh evaluations, even from childhood. Voices of detractors can cut deeply, and the scars can linger. Unkind gossip, unfair judgments—none of us are immune to the sea of rudeness that seems to be rising. Even without society’s current lack of courtesy, many of us carry hurtful comments from decades ago. And it’s okay to acknowledge hurt. We’re only human.
But sometimes this causes us to doubt our abilities, our worth, our place in the world. When such things are said by loved ones, it’s even harder to shrug them off. But what if we decided that God is the only one we need to please? What if the very fact that someone is being mean-spirited says more about them than it does about us? What if, even in the case of an overly harsh parent, we see their comment as the product of their own problems, their jealousy, their frustrations?
It helps us frame their comment correctly—as the words of someone striking out due to their own weaknesses. Now we see their words as sad, but not as a correct evaluation of us. We wish these people were kinder. But we don’t allow their comments to derail us from our path. We choose to continue a life of service, growth, and joy.
President Gordon B. Hinckley once said, “We are so easily offended. Happy is the man who can brush aside the offending remarks of another and go on his way.” It’s a wonderful way to travel through life, able to contribute and make progress without getting knocked off our game by someone who doesn’t have our best interests at heart.
Most of us have encountered offensive remarks, even blunt persecution. But if we remain confident we don’t feel the need to argue back, defend ourselves, or grow depressed over it. We certainly don’t need to withdraw from church activity, which only hurts ourselves. Staying the course and living to prove them wrong is a strong, healthy approach to life that allows us to continue on, unharmed by our enemies.
Even better, we can follow the Savior’s admonition to love our enemies and do good to those who spitefully use us. When we refuse to internalize their anger we can genuinely reach out to love them. Yes, even our enemies, because we aspire for them to get well, to see how wrong they were, and to come out of the shadows and into the light.
By keeping our hearts in tune with Jesus Christ, we also avoid judging them back. We only aspire for them to be happier, and become the kind of people who have no need to insult or abuse. Sometimes, by extending kindness to these very people, we help dispel their own wrongheaded views of themselves. We show them there is something lovable within them. You could be the first person all year who’s been kind to them. It can actually soften their hearts.
A good 3-part formula is to 1) hear them, 2) decide what the comment means to you, and 3) redirect the energy in a positive way—for both you and for the speaker. This means we love ourselves and we love them.
What if you’ve been given criticism that’s actually true? Perhaps it wasn’t spoken diplomatically, but there’s a ring of truth to the accusation. These are the hardest comments because they pierce our heart with accuracy and we know we’ve done less than our best. Yes, we wish everyone loved us all of the time. But we’re human. Sometimes we let others down and they call us out for it. This is a time to swallow pride, humbly apologize, and work to improve. It’s painful, but owning up to our mistakes is part of being a mature adult. Correcting a flaw is essential to our improvement in this life. And most people admire someone who can do what’s difficult. What’s more, our children need to see this modeled so they don’t feel it’s the end of the world when they do something wrong.
This New Years’ why not resolve not to be offended for the entire year? It doesn’t mean people won’t step on your toes from time to time. It means you won’t give their words a shelf in your heart. You won’t agonize and be heartbroken or angry over it. Most tough appraisals really do come from people you wouldn’t ask advice from. And we don’t have to take offense. Elder David A. Bednar said, “To be offended is a choice we make, not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else.”
Imagine looking back at a rude person and silently thinking, “I love you anyway.” Then your response will be one that stands up for yourself, yet conveys genuine caring for them. You won’t regret a comment that comes from a loving heart. Staying humble instead of matching their attitude is actually empowering.
It’s also a good reminder that we should try never to give offense. Misunderstandings and accidents happen; we say the wrong thing and, we hope, apologize swiftly. Being sensitive to others and choosing our words carefully is a good goal, one that will increase our sense of self-worth because we’re trying to do the right thing. Just attempting to be courteous helps us avoid most of the clumsy comments that could otherwise slip from our tongues. It’s like Part B of this resolution: Do not take offense, and do not give offense. If all we do is master this one resolution, 2020 should be a phenomenal year.
It’s not too late to plan ahead: Hilton’s newest work, A Little Christmas Prayer, is destined to become a Christmas classic. Sometimes it takes a child to raise a village, and this tale teaches anyone, of any faith, the magic of gratitude. All her books and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.