Criticism and Reproof

I’ve begun reading through Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Though much of what Carnegie has to say is valuable, I had some misgivings about the first chapter.

Don’t Kick Over The Beehive

Carnegie’s first principle is “Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.”

He argues that even hardened criminals don’t criticize themselves or admit their actions are wrong; how much more so would normal people perceive their actions as right and justified? Criticism, he says, puts people on the defensive; wounds their “precious pride”; hurts their sense of importance; and arouses resentment. Instead, we ought to seek to understand, and then forgive.

At first blush, especially when reading it in his own words, this seems like good advice, and I’ve heard it repeated in other places. But I believe it misses some important Biblical wisdom.

2 Timothy 4:1–2
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

Paul charges Timothy to reprove, rebuke, and exhort the people of God, because they will wander after their own passions and find teachers who will tell them what they want to hear. He doesn’t seem to share Carnegie’s enthusiasm to “seek to understand and then forgive.”

That said, there’s no sense in serving up correction willy-nilly. As Proverbs says:

Proverbs 9:7–9
”Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.”

It’s kind of like when Jesus talked about casting your pearls before swine. Criticism can be immensely valuable, to the right kind of person. Given to the wrong kind of person, it can cause serious problems.

But even so, it’s not always out of place to correct a scoffer:

Proverbs 19:25
”Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence;
reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge.”

Even if he refuses to accept the reproof, those around him can still learn from it.

But let’s circle back up to the first passage: “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” Our criticism should always be patient, always with the goal of teaching and building up – never hasty or in anger.

And, conversely, we should always be ready to receive criticism ourselves – accepting it wisely, and increasing in learning.

7 thoughts on “Criticism and Reproof

  1. One might wonder how this man planned on even writing this book if his very opening chapter didn’t involve criticizing, condemning, or complaining about the very people he’s addressing: people who criticize, condemn, and complain. How is his position not self-contradictory from the very beginning? He seems to already be kicking other persons’ beehives in the process of forbidding it.

      1. I agree, but these matters can’t be abstracted apart from persons. Criticism and condemning and complaining can’t exist apart from the persons who make them. So, while his criticism is less specific, he’s still contradicting himself. He reminds me of the people who tell others not to judge lest they be judged. He’s open to the same rebuttals they are.

        1. Well, it’s true that these matters can’t exist apart from persons, but they can be abstracted from persons. If you’ve read the chapter he doesn’t discourage criticizing character flaws generally, but confronting people specifically.

          Hence, to be fair, Carnegie’s position is not necessarily inconsistent with itself.

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