The desire for approval is common among us. We like to be liked. This, I assume, is a common trait throughout most of humanity.
But I’m wondering, as technology and communication change, if this element of human nature is playing a larger role in our society and personal development than ever before.
The desire to be liked often causes us to say only the things we know people want to hear. And there is a danger in that for both the giver and receiver.
First, as the receiver, when we only hear the things we want to hear, we are rarely pushed into areas of needed growth. Criticism can be helpful—and it should be welcomed, especially when it comes from the people who love us most. Second, when the voices around us act as only an echo chamber of our personal beliefs, we miss opportunity to see the world from a new perspective.
The first danger of avoiding criticism is just as prevalent as it has ever been. If we do not surround ourselves with people willing to speak hard truth into our lives, we are left with little opportunity for growth. We ought to value those who challenge us in positive ways and also receive their criticism with grace and patience (however difficult that may be).
But the second danger appears to be disproportionately more prevelant in today’s heightened world of communication. For many people, digital platforms have become the new townsquare. Even more, our digital lives form the foundation for the influences we seek in our life. We follow our favorite authors, artists, entertainers, and thought-leaders.
This is all fine and good—I am thankful for the opportunity that technology has provided for me to reach you today.
But there is a downside. When we get to single-handedly pick all the people that we allow to speak into our lives, we are less likely to select people with opposing worldviews shaped by unique circumstances. It’s not always easy to allow people into our lives who we disagree with—and even more difficult to not quickly dismiss their words when we do. But these are needed for life improvement.
Seek out voices that say things you need to hear—not just the things you want to hear.
But I’d like to consider another angle to this conversation. There is a danger to us when we only hear things we want to hear. But there is also a danger in being the person who only says what other people want to hear—and I think our ever-connected world has made that more possible than ever before.
My life wasn’t always so focused on minimalism. As I have mentioned on numerous occassions, before becoming a full-time writer, I was a pastor at a number of different churches. I loved my job and found great meaning in it.
My desire to promote minimalism was as much accidental as it was anything else. I was introduced to the lifestlye by my neighbor… I started this blog as an online journal… but as people started reading it…. I became more and more energized concerning it. Simply put, I enjoyed the fact that people were drawn to the message—their positive response fueled my passion and minimalism’s opportunity to change the world.
Because positive reinforcement always encourages more of the same behavior, when people are drawn to the things we are saying, we are more inclined to repeat them. And the more we repeat them, the more likely we are to believe them.
This is good when the words we are speaking are beneficial to the listener. But this can be detrimental to us when the words we are speaking are not helpful or when they perpetuate a lie that we repeat only because the listener wants to hear it.
As I raise my children, I praise them when appropriate. And they enjoy the compliment and shower of praise. But there are times when they need correction as well. And I can only serve as a loving father if I am willing to take the step and speak hard truths into their life.
In the same way, I think we need to see our role in the world the same. There are times to comfort, soothe, encourage, and praise. But there are also times to speak unpopular truth into people’s lives and into the world around us.
Do both. And receive both.
Musa Asioh says
Hi Joshua,This is a wonderful piece. I specially love the that part about critism. Thank you and continue writing. From Tanzania
I love this article! In light of the current situation around the world, there are many of us that have apposing views. Voicing these on social media as what I believe is “my truth” has seen some friends feel they should attack me in a way that I have never seen before. I return with kindness and love but it’s still so very difficult to speak up. Would you mind if I copied some of your words and posted? I’m happy to put your name as the author too. Xx
How timely. I was just thinking this morning, in the wake of the election result, how little I hear of the voices of people with a different political point of view than my own. We’ve never been so connected, but are also increasingly insular.
What a beautiful message and truth you have spoken today. One of my best friends (I call her my “soul sister”) has said some hard truths to me that stopped me in my tracks every time. I became aware of my initial reaction to recoil. But she keeps me on the path of righteousness, keeps me accountable to be a true disciple of Jesus, and challenges me to keep my word when I say I am going to do something. I am blessed by such a friendship, even if my initial reaction is, “Ouch!”
Iron sharpens iron.
My prayer is to always speak the truth and to do so in a loving manner: even when it’s difficult, even when it’s unpopular.
The desire to be liked is so hard to surrender, but it is necessary if we ever hope to grow.
Thank you for inspiring me daily with your blog!
Thank you for the great post, a real wake up call.
The Elementarist says
Thank you for these beautiful words, Joshua. In fact, we have the feeling that people tend to forget how to handle honest and sometimes not so nice words. Ever more people in our environment constantly cry at work. Not because someone was unfair to them but because someone criticised them. What should be taken as an opportunity to grow is now often being understood as an attack. We believe that one of the underlying reasons for this is fear. In a world getting ever more complex people as square “not to be good enough” any more. Thus, the mind quickly starts seeing criticism as danger as it could mean that you fall apart in today’s world.
Our culture is emotionally overwrought. No wonder households struggle to communicate. Avoiding hurt feelings drives a whole bunch of relationships in my life. Wisdom has no place in a world that values feelings over everything else.
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This article was exactly what I needed.
I was LITERALLY just thinking whether or not I should tell someone something because they might disagree, or frown at me, and I was afraid of what they’d say. So I switched on my computer to distract me, opened your page and: Oh. OH.
Sohaib Sandhu says
Thank you for the article. Ironic that we live in a so-called ‘connected world’, yet live in our own bubbles.
We also need to be reflective of our own actions. Are we ready to face those who disagree with us? As adults we have choices, which may mean stepping back from those who don’t see things the way we do. Kids on the other hand have no choice (especially when younger) but to go with what mummy and daddy say.
Good point I will think about. Thank you for this!
Great post. You have, as usual, given me much to think about. Our computers and devices even cater towards our likes, by catching our online history and showing us more of the same, which really can bring us into a case of tunnel vision with our views and beliefs. I think now more than ever we need to purposely search out opposing viewpoints at times to help us make a more balanced decision on where we really stand.
You have to be strong to both receive and give good criticism. Receiving criticism usually hurts at first. And giving it can cause agression in the criticised person, which on the internet we call “hate”. And when you get this agressive answer… it also hurts.
Natalie Tensen says
Thanks Joshua for encouraging me to take on more minimalist ideals in my life. Loved the movie you appeared in, thanks for being a thought leader and agent for change. Blessings over your family.
I enjoyed this very much. I know that I tend to only say nice things to my kids and grand kids and tend to leave the negative just in my thoughts. I never thought about helping them with learning how to cope with criticism. That should also be a part of my job as a parent and grand parent.
Hi Joshua, and thank you for this article. To me, one of the keys of speaking the truth is to do so in a way that respects the person you are speaking to. As one of my college professors used to say, we can disagree without being disagreeable.
Barbara Wagner says
Thank you Joshua for your honesty. Many people do not want to hear that, but it is good for us. Good criticism well delivered is always better for us than tickling our ears with fluff that makes us feel good. Love your writing, thank you
sharon raymond says
I recommend Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Introduction to Non-violent Communication, for anyone seeking information on skillful ways to think, and speak. From this book I have learned that any evaluation, which would be criticism or praise, of another person of any age, reduces the likelihood that they will develop intrinsic, as opposed to extrinsic, motivations for their behavior. A skillful comment on a child’s behavior might be, “I feel so happy when you carry the clothes up the stairs, I was really needing some support” vs. “what a great kid you are, carrying the clothes up the steps.”
This is wonderfully written, and so true. Thanks for talking about this. I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot, and how it can be scary to talk about what you believe in, or how you’re really feeling. It seems that in the online world it can be both too easy to offend others, and easy to be offended. It would be nice to speak openly and respectfully, be challenged by different views, and remain honest in our conversations.
I didn’t know that you were a pastor before. Great post! I love candid feedback and criticism from people.
Often times, I go soliciting feedback so that I can improve myself.
We need to be open (not defensive) when we receive feedback. That is the only way to keep the receiving door open.
Then we need to objectively look at ourselves, evaluate, and make course corrections as appropriate.
Vicki Nelson says
Fantastic article. It’s something I think about often, how easy it is to surround ourselves with only people we want to hear, whether friends, family, FB acquaintances, or even the news. But what does that gain us? How do we hold a conversation with an opposing view, when we don’t really understand it? How do we see another side when we refuse to open our eyes? How do we grow, if we refuse to let others help us? Thank you for sharing this!
Roy Benzema says
I believe dat is a gosple truth. People are conforming to things they shouldnt. All bkos they want to be accepted by others. Politicians are endorsing disgusting social lives bkos they want votes, entatainers are endosing same bkos they want to sell. But believe in GOD or not, we are all liable to judgement one day. What de BIBLE speaks against shud not be endorsed by anyone, and christians must not follow those endorsers. GOD speaks against abortion, homosexual, transgender, corruption and de like.
Thank you Joshua.
Marie Nellist says
This applies in many areas. Political correctness. Parenting. Being married. Thanks for the reminder.
Gladys Stevens says
I wake up at 5am to join an on line prayer ministry. Sometimes I feel tired and less motivated but because I want to please or get the approval of the group, I force myself to participate. This article has helped me in a way to just be myself so as to benefit from motivations deep within myself. Blessings.
I’ve been labeled as not being a “Team Player” at work because I don’t say YES to everything that comes through my office. The answer is not always YES… and that’s got to be OK.
Dale Archibald says
I try to be a Popeye existentialist: “I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam.” Sometimes you have to say no, sometimes you have to say the tough things. If you say those in a caring rather than confrontative way, it hurts less.
Andrea Kruger says
This blog post really made me think about the influence social media has made on people’s behavior. I recently heard the term “digital narcissism”, which is described as having excessive interest in oneself and/or inflated sense of importance. It is helping me shape my conduct on these platforms and the advice I give my children.
Vicki Nelson says
Andrea, I’ve never heard that term before, but wow, doesn’t that just describe a lot of what we see online? This is really making me think about social media in general.
Jennifer Ohlinger says
Sometimes constructive criticism and concern have to be spoken for the protection of the one giving it. I am a home daycare provider and my lack of being upfront with one of the families has caused ongoing stress for myself as well as my husband & child. I never want to “rock the boat” or upset others & of course I don’t want to lose a daycare family. But I see also that by me not saying anything is an injustice to them as well, as they may have no idea of the stress they are causing in my life. It is so hard to speak the truth(admittedly I’m not great when being on the receiving end) & often it never seems like the right time. However if done with tact and humility, I have to believe that God will bless the end result.
Vicki Nelson says
Jennifer, I used to run a home daycare, and I understand what you are going through. Think of it this way, you are also hurting your family if you don’t speak up, for your stress rubs off on them. I learned this one the hard way. Good luck to you! I’ll say a prayer.
As a child I was bullied in school. Over the years I have come to realize that it has made me more aware of what I say to people and how I address not agreeing with their points of view. I try to see things from both sides. However, I’ve noticed recently that so many people have no filter. I find myself unsettled by the nasty tone being used and people just saying whatever comes to mind. Bring back respectful constructive comments.
I agree. It’s the development of what I call “snark culture.” Many people hide behind social media to make rude and snide comments about others in order to raise themselves up. The sad truth is that they are more likely pointing to faults in others that they fear they have in an attempt to misdirect any attention it may bring them.
Jeffrey Pillow says
“There are times to comfort, soothe, encourage, and praise. But there are also times to speak unpopular truth into people’s lives and into the world around us.”
We have a responsibility to speak on topics that not only make us feel good, or bring us together, but also on topics that make us squirm sometimes, that make us a little uncomfortable.
I started writing about mental illness on my blog about a year ago. Coming out and saying “I have severe anxiety and it has controlled, and at times, nearly destroyed my life” wasn’t easy to write about. But it was the greatest weight I have ever lifted from my chest. It allowed me to start breathing again. And I received so much feedback as soon as I hit publish.
Friends and strangers alike telling me about their addictions, depression, suicidal thoughts, their own anxiety, etc. thanking me for speaking for them.
People want truth no matter how uncomfortable it can be at times. There are people out there who depend on you to speak up.
Be that person.
Thanks for sharing your words, as always.
John P. Weiss says
Your post reminds me of that wise Billy Joel song “Honesty,” with the lyrics: “Honesty, is such a lonely word, Everyone is so untrue
Honesty, is hardly ever heard, And mostly what I need from you.”
Good post. The thing about constructive criticism is whether the party at the receiving end will view it as such. I always think it is constructive to provide feedback. However, it is entirely up to the receiving party to decide how to make use of this information to “progress”.
Thank you for this!!
I just had someone ask me, kindly, if I was allowing people’s approval to direct what I was blogging about, and I realized that I am. I want to change that, because I think there is more meaning to life and I want to remind people of God’s presence.
I understand a lot of biblical topics are not extremely popular, but if that’s what needs to be said—I hope I will say it.
I love reading your posts! I am a mother of one living in New Zealand. I have been on a decluttering roll and have got my partner on board too. Deleting Apps from our phones focusing more on what is in front of us in real life! I feel like we are claiming our time back getting away from buying things and living in the now. My birthday is coming up and I am telling my family I don’t want any presents, just a bunch of flowers, some good food and their company! This post defiantly make you think especially when it comes to parenting. Keep on writing so I can continue to be inspired!
I like the point of this article, it is something I didn’t really think about.
There is a lot of negativity in the world and often I feel like if I speak an unpopular truth it will just add to that and drive people away. When I hear any criticism, even if it is constructive, my initial reaction is always ‘Oh no, they don’t like this about me (or what I did)’.
I’m sure reducing my desire for approval will be something that will only make me happier in the long term.
Erin Norin says
I absolutely agree. Fantastic topic. Thank you for this VERY important reminder.
laura ann says
Jane: We have don’t expect approval or agreement from everyone except for those like minded whom we have things in common with. We learned thru the years people take things for granted. We are not really social and are on computers all day and in the eve we switch on TV for several hours of educational shows. There is nothing wrong with constructive criticism for ex: a county road near us needs resurfacing, we will say: the county is slack and avoids this issue, others agree. We are not active in the community or join anything. Also, I know (and others say) people don’t seem to appreciate things done in organizations (show appreciation) like vet org, local civic clubs, only when you drop off donations to animal shelters, group homes or rescue missions, which is what I intend to keep doing.
You make great points.
I always wanted approval from everyone, regardless of it they were like minded. Ridiculous I know.