Few take criticism well. We nod in agreement Franklin P. Jones. He observed, “Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.”

The word that comes to mind in such circumstances is “unfair.”

Sometimes “fair” is in the eye of the speaker. Objectively, life is not fair. Even the godly man Job shook his fist at life demanding an accounting for the unfair treatment.

Sometimes from our perspective (a key phrase) we are not treated fairly.

Several years ago, a performance review dropped on me like an anvil. The review (from my youthful viewpoint) focused on petty things. After fifteen minutes of having my failings rehearsed before me, I limped away with my ego in a sling.

Yet, that bitter moment taught me how to respond when emotion skews my perspective. I discovered how to shovel the mud of resentment from my path to the future.

I allowed myself to feel the hurt–temporarily. Criticism has a scorpion-like sting. Words are the shrapnel of criticism, ripping a hole in even the hardiest emotional armor. I felt hurt, betrayed, and worthless. Yet, I limited the time to wallow in self-pity to no more than 48 hours. I could revel in the hurt, lie in in like a warm blanket, but after that time, it was time to move on.

I examined the “why” rather than the “what.” Seldom does feedback clear. In my mind, I sat in the corner and looked at “me” objectively. What did the list of seemingly trivial complaints mean? I realized lurking behind them was a lack of trust. I was relatively new to that congregation and people were not yet comfortable with me or my style.

I developed a strategy to attack the problem rather than the critic. The next year, I resolved to spend more time with the people on the margins (the source of most of the barbs). I visited them in homes, hospitals, and school hallways. Within a few months, their tentativeness evaporated.

I listened to what was true and changed–immediately. A seedling of truth sprouts from every criticism. Sometimes the emotional poison ivy of the critic chokes it. Other times, I grew deaf to anything that seemed to attack me. On the list of “faults” were a couple of things to which I had to plead “guilty.” Those are things I changed immediately.

I remember that review which happened almost three decades ago for two reasons. It was a bitter experience I really don’t want to repeat. But it was also a learning experience that changed how I approach criticism.

If you cannot learn from what seems unfair, you can never profit from it. Don’t ignore the best lesson life can hand you.