The Art of Correcting Another
ANYONE can correct another. But to correct another in a way that does some good is an art. It is necessary to know, not only what to say, but when to say it and where and how.
Take, for example, this true-life incident. In a certain living room there was a group of what might be called well-educated people. All were listening intently as one of their number, a man, told an interesting story. At one point his wife interrupted to correct him on a slight mistake in grammar. Clearly displeased, the husband repeated his grammatical error with added emphasis and proceeded with his story. Obviously, his wife had not learned the art of correcting another.
Most important in the art of correction is the question of motive. The motive should never be a negative one, to belittle, to embarrass another, or out of resentment or spite. The very best motive for offering correction is love. No doubt the wife who corrected her husband in the matter of grammar did so because of her love for him. She probably would not have thought of saying anything if another man had made that mistake, because it probably would have meant little to her. No doubt about it, among the ways that love can be shown is by offering correction. As God’s Word says: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”—Prov. 27:6, RS.
However, one who is truly a friend, and who really loves others, also needs to cultivate empathy. More is needed than good intentions. They might be likened to the power needed to run machines. Important as the power is, it is also important for machinery to be finely adjusted, with gears and bearings not too loose nor too tight, and essential also is enough of the right kind of lubrication. Otherwise, in spite of all the power available, the machine will soon grind to a halt. Similarly when correcting another, you need, not only good intentions, but also the wisdom of empathy, that is, the ability to put yourself in the other’s place, so as to know how to go about it, that the correction might do some good.
Important in the art of correcting another is being certain of your facts. You may think you know, and then find out you were mistaken and so suffer embarrassment for having presumed to correct. Not to be overlooked is the need to take into consideration circumstances that might have a bearing on whether a thing is wise or unwise, whether a certain course of action should be criticized or not. A person may make a very poor showing along a certain line of activity, but if you knew all the facts, all the obstacles he had to contend with, you might be less inclined to correct him. Under the circumstances he might be doing very well indeed.
There is also the matter of correcting trifles. One young husband complained to his very bright young wife: “Dearie, within just two minutes you have corrected me four times, and that in regard to sheer trifles. Did it really matter whether these little things were done in just a certain way?” No, it would not have mattered, and in mentioning them she betrayed a lack of empathy. Apparently she was letting herself get into the bad habit of correcting her spouse in regard to trifles, unessential details, and so was in danger of becoming a nagger.—Prov. 21:9; 27:15.
Why did she do it? Why do so many others like her do it? It could well be because of some unconscious discontent with their lot of submission as defined in the Scriptures. Or it might be a feeling of rivalry of which not even she herself was aware. This, in turn, might be due to thoughtlessness on the part of her husband. A wise and loving husband can do much to remedy matters by ever showing appreciation for what his wife is and for all she contributes to his comfort, pleasure and well-being, physically, emotionally and intellectually.—1 Cor. 11:3, 9.
WHEN AND WHERE?
If it seems advisable to give correction, it is well to keep in mind that, whenever possible, it is best to correct another in private. Illustrating this is still another true-life incident.
A mature Christian was training another Christian, a motherly person, in the house-to-house ministry in one of the low-income housing projects in Brooklyn, New York. As was his custom, from time to time he would offer suggestions on how she could improve her ministry, correcting her. Afterward he felt he had done quite well in giving thought, time and effort to help this beginner. But that was the last time he saw her for months. What had gone wrong?
When another mature Christian called to find out why she had stopped attending the congregation’s meetings he learned that she had been greatly hurt because she had been corrected in the presence of others, fellow Christians. It took considerable patient explaining to help her get over her hurt and see matters in their right light. After that she again began to associate with her fellow Christians at the local Kingdom Hall. What a lesson that was for the minister who had tried to help her in the first place! Unless we are careful and display empathy, we can do more harm than good, even with the best intentions in the world.
Married couples in particular do well to keep this principle in mind. As one Christian marriage counselor well observed: “It is good for man and wife to give counsel to each other, but always do it in private. Have regard for each other’s feelings. Do not belittle your mate before others. Nor is it wise to do it in the form of teasing.” This includes parents’ not correcting each other in the presence of their children.
But it must be added that at times those in authority might be required to give correction in the presence of others, even as noted at 1 Timothy 5:20: “Reprove before all onlookers persons who practice sin.” However, that is done, not over minor matters, but when one makes a practice of sin. And it is not so much for the sinner’s benefit as for the benefit of onlookers, even as the apostle Paul goes on to say: “That the rest also may have fear.”
HOW AND TO WHOM?
Except for such rare occasions, it is always wise to put the one to be corrected in a receptive frame of mind. One of the ways this can be done is by first giving some praise or commendation. By first having something favorable to say you can make a person more amenable to correction. It will help him to appreciate that you are not prejudiced, that you take note of the strong and good points as well as the weak points and, more than that, that you have empathy and appreciate that receiving correction is not likely to be pleasant.
If you would master the art of correcting another you must be concerned with how you give the correction. Unless the error is very serious and there is willfulness or indifference associated with it, it is best to proceed in offering correction in a gentle manner, with kindness and mildness. Wise is the inspired advice: “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to restore such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted.” (Gal. 6:1) Yes, kindness and mildness make it so much easier for another to accept your correction. This, however, requires self-control, for correcting another in mildness, in kindness and calmly is not following the line of least resistance.
The art of correcting another includes taking into consideration the matter of position. Certainly those in authority need not feel apologetic when they, in wisdom and with mildness, offer correction to those in their charge. Administering correction is part of the duty of husbands, fathers, teachers and Christian shepherds. True, these themselves might at times err and have need to have an error called to their attention. This, of course, should be done in a most respectful manner.
All these principles governing the correcting of another can well be applied by Christian ministers to their preaching and teaching activity. It might be said that they have been commissioned by Jehovah God to offer correction to all with whom they come in contact in their ministry. How so? In that they have been commanded to warn the world of mankind of the impending destruction of this system of things. To carry out this commission effectively requires their mastering the art of correcting others.
So they also must, first of all, be fully informed so as to know what to say; they must also have the right motive, giving the warning out of the goodness of their heart, because of love, even though others may not appreciate it. They must consider the time and place, not insisting upon being heard when it is not convenient for others to listen. Neither do they press their message on those who do not appreciate sacred things; they ‘do not throw what is holy to dogs.’ And in doing all this they give with mildness and kindness a reason for the hope that is in them. By thus mastering the art of correcting another they can hope to do the most good in their Christian ministry.—Matt. 7:6; 1 Pet. 3:15.