I was four years old and I loved frogs. Well, I actually loved anything I could catch, but frogs were on the top of the list. Anthony was our next door neighbor. Anthony hated frogs. At least I think he hated them, because he used to send them to a violent death. It could have been that Anthony loved violence, and frogs were easy targets.
I discovered Anthony’s passion for killing frogs in a rather disturbing way. I caught a big one and showed it to him. Anthony said, “Wait here,” and he ran to his yard, grabbed a board, and returned. At this point I had no idea what to expect. Was he going to build a frog cage? Have the creature do a trick? At his request, I placed the frog on the ground, eager to see the creative plans of my neighbor in action. A moment later, the board was whistling through the air as it rapidly descended toward my beloved frog. I’ll spare you the sights and sounds that followed. Let’s just say that my beloved frog was no more.
Shock reeled through me. Why did Anthony feel the need to destroy my frog? In the coming weeks, I discovered Anthony’s need to destroy all frogs. And he found many creative ways to kill them. The joy of discovering a new frog was immediately followed by the realization that I needed to protect it from Anthony. No frog was safe and he would go to great lengths to get his hands on our little pets.
Life is filled with smashers like this. From a writer’s perspective, I’ve encountered a few frog killers. These are people who destroy rather than build up. When someone finds success, these people come in to smash away what we cherish. Biting criticism, envy, and jealousy have the power to turn any of us into smashers.
Not only do we have to guard our own attitudes so we don’t become smashers, but we have to learn how to deal with the smashers around us. We must protect ourselves from being discouraged from the smasher, but we also have to protect the hopes of others. I’ve seen critique groups with smashers in the midst. They don’t seek to sharpen the craft of other writers; they smash the work to bits. It can be a single comment, or it can be an all-out assault.
My first critique group provided such an experience. It was the first writing I had submitted for peer review. One of the more dominant personalities looked at my work and said, “When I read this I knew an amateur wrote it.” Well now, that didn’t give me a lot to work with. No encouragement there. No value added criticism either. I later realized this person wasn’t confident in their own writing, so they felt the need to take down others.
It is our responsibility to both encourage and guide others. While a critique means to offer criticism, there is a destructive criticism and there is a mentoring criticism.
Smashers are out there. When someone attempts to smash our praise report, work, or hope of success, don’t surrender it to the smasher. When we witness someone else becoming discouraged or hurt by the words of others, become a restorer and encourager. It’s easy to smash those closest to us, and we usually don’t realize it. That’s why we must be on guard against our own nature.
Fortunately, the smasher and the encourager can’t occupy the same heart at the same time. When you and I are actively encouraging someone, we won’t have a negative attitude that assaults others. Whether we are dealing with ourselves or another person, our goal is to be life givers. The Proverbs state that we should not keep company with those who act out in negative ways, or we will learn their ways and get a snare to our own soul. Seek out healthy relationships and make it intentional to be a builder. This is true for writing, but it’s also true for every area of life.
This doesn’t mean we only associate with those who tell us what we want to hear. It means that we befriend those who can give us healthy encouragement and criticisms. Iron sharpens iron. To sharpen, the rough edges have to be chipped away and the good edge is made straight. Let us sharpen others and allow ourselves to be sharpened – and season our words with the grace of encouragement.