There’s a Proverb for That: Taking Correction, or How Not to Be Stupid
Our gut reaction to correction, even when it is tactful or constructive, is usually defensive justification rather than deep reflection. Would Proverbs agree?
“You’re one to talk.” “You’re just jealous.” “No, you are.” “I don’t care.”
Sound familiar? Most of us have used variations of these lines at one time or another when confronted with criticism or correction about something we have said or done. Unfortunately, it is rare to receive constructive and tactful criticism/correction today. But despite the aggressive nature of social discourse online, criticism and correction can be positive. They can help us identify weaknesses and provide opportunities to grow. Correction can also be a very negative thing, dragging us down and degrading us for the purpose of fulfilling someone else’s arrogance and self-worth.
The bigger question is: What do we do when we get criticized or corrected, regardless of how it’s communicated? On top of that, the Bible says one of its purposes is to provide reproof and correction (2 Timothy 3:16). How we take criticism, especially from the Word of God, but also from other people, is no small matter.
Proverbs and implications
1. Proverbs 12:1: “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.”
No matter the form or delivery of criticism, it is always more intelligent to reflect on it.The purpose of the Proverbs is to help us, so there are times when it doesn’t mince words. Do we accept this correction because it’s true and makes sense, or do we reject it because it bluntly calls us stupid if we reject it? Perhaps we would rather be called scoffers (Proverbs 13:1) or fools (Proverbs 15:5)?
Implications: The Proverbs are very clear: hating and ignoring correction is just not intelligent (to soften the bluntness). No matter the form or delivery of criticism, it is always more intelligent to reflect on it, and maybe even joyfully thank the other person for it. It’s not easy, but it’s better than being stupid.
2. Proverbs 20:30: “Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, as do stripes the inner depths of the heart.”
Nobody likes receiving criticism, because we all want to feel good about ourselves. Without criticism, though, we get stuck in our own echo chambers of self-importance and rationalization. We need correction in order to stay on the right path (Proverbs 10:17) and to be sure we don’t bring unnecessary suffering upon ourselves (Proverbs 13:18).
Implications: When the blows and stripes of correction come, we ignore them to our own peril. Unloving comments, critiques and know-it-all suggestions can flow our way often, but so can constructive and tactful feedback. Both can be used to find growth areas and ways to improve our lives. Even if correction isn’t presented in the ideal form or spirit, we can still “make lemonade out of the lemons” by identifying areas where we can improve ourselves.
3. Proverbs 25:12: “Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise rebuker to an obedient ear.”
This proverb illustrates the optimal situation for correction and criticism: a wise giver of correction communicating to a willing ear. When correction is wise and presented in love, reflection and change should be the natural response. Heeding rebuke gets us understanding (Proverbs 15:32), and avoiding being stubborn when receiving feedback keeps us from destruction without remedy (Proverbs 29:1).
Implications: We must scrap excuses to ignore correction. At the same time, we must clear our minds of self-righteous, “telling someone off” vocabulary as well. We can all be wiser in how we present correction and more receptive in how we take it.
Plenty more where those came from
The many proverbs that specifically address giving and receiving correction present this basic theme: “Those wise enough to receive correction, however it comes to them, will be much better off than those who reject it.”
When we are tempted to be stupid and only want smooth flattery rather than tough correction (when needed), remember, there’s a proverb for that.
For more insight into this topic, read our article “Handling Criticism.”