Jesus lays out a pointed warning in Matthew 7: “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own” (MSG).

I recently wrote a post over at American Thinker about a platform’s unnecessary sneer of Sully, the late President Bush’s service dog. In the post, I stated the author “…demonstrated one of the worst vices of American media. Specifically, she sought to provoke and entertain the audience she writes for by unnecessarily criticizing Sully…” The criticism of Sully was actually about something deeper, I suspect, and in this age of viral marketing, it seems the best way to gain attention to one’s work is to criticize someone else. There’s an old warning in the Church that goes something like, “Don’t build your ministry off of the backs of other ministers through criticizing their ministries.”

Culture is the greatest shaper of how we think, speak, and behave. As an early stage millennial, I did not grow up as an internet native, but easily adopted what are now mature social media platforms in my early 20s. I know. You’re doing the math in your head. Let’s see…Facebook debuted in 2006…carry the 3…this guy must be ancient millennial years-old.

Other readers out there are Gen Z. You have never known a day without the internet not being a thing. You are part of a group of people known as internet natives. Being a part of social media was a natural progression for you as soon as you received a phone from your parents.

As mentioned earlier, one of the negative aspects of social media is the entertainment factor via criticism. As a leader at a Christian university in the mid-west during the early days of Twitter, I observed as students created profiles to conceal their true identities in order to shred, discredit, and mock Chapel speakers – people who were doing their sincere best to share a message they believed God had given them for the student body. The hashtag everyone hastily pulled up on their phones after worship – after a time of worshipping the Creator – was #twapel…a hashtag to show off and jockey with their peers how witty they were with their negativity.

One of my major concerns for my Millennial and Gen Z brothers and sisters is our attitudes and love of criticism. As a leader at that university, I remembered times that I found myself critical of leaders around me, making known how they were doing their jobs wrong and insufficiently. I could be excoriating at times, immaturely identifying myself as the hero if I were only in charge.

Eventually, I received a promotion to take over a department that I was very excited to lead. After a couple of months on the job, a co-worker pointed out to me, “Aaron, I notice that you don’t really criticize others like you did before you took this job.”

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I responded, “Yeah, I realized I was in over my head when I took the promotion. I realized how petty my criticism was. I also realized that this particular role is really hard. I’m afraid of messing up. And now, I don’t want the criticism dished out to me that I dealt out on others when they messed up. I just have a totally different perspective, now.”

I have used that moment to help reshape my leadership, virtue, and behavior. Christ’s words echoed through my performance concerns:

“That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.”

As a growing Gen Z or Millennial leader and professional, I encourage you to consider how you criticize others just as I had to reconsider in my own leadership. Here are three items I check off my list before I utter a criticism on someone:

  1. Am I emotionally attached to the criticism I am about to dish out? If the answer is yes, I do my best not to criticize. My emotional attachment to a criticism actually says a lot more about me than it does about anyone or anything I’m criticizing. If I’m angry, the better question to ask is why am I angry? If I’m jealous, why?
  2. Is the criticism constructive? A worthy criticism tries to see all sides of the criticism. You need to take into account the limitations and constraints that are on the leader you are about to criticize. You need to balance why the leader made the decision they made, or at least seek to understand before you make the criticism.
  3. How does your criticism affect others? If your criticism is only going to fuel and further a toxic work environment, then you need to take into account you are becoming part of the problem of your workplace, not the solution. Likely, you are making the critique in order to vent, make yourself look like the hero, or even entertain an audience at work. Your words and emotions, once communicated, can have a profound effect on those you work with.

Criticism is so highly regarded in our culture, and people make careers out of being thought leaders of criticism instead of thought leaders of virtue. As you traverse your career in your 20-somethings, I encourage you to consider how you criticize people, co-workers, bosses, and the world around you. Remember, Jesus’ words will come to pass with others issuing a criticism of you.

As you reevaluate why and how you criticize others, I hope that Jesus’ words from Matthew Chapter 7 echo in your thoughts, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment.” We all have been on the giving and receiving end of criticism and felt the emotional pain as others unjustly or inconsiderately evaluated our actions. But if we take the time to think through Christ’s words and ask ourselves the three questions, I believe our communication can become a force of virtue instead of vice.