Saturday, February 27, 2010

On Giving and Receiving Correction

I served in a position in the church where I was under the direct supervision of our stake president. I had for years admired our stake president, even long before he had that calling. He was humble and kind. He knew adversity in his life and he also knew the joy of doing things the Lord's way.

When he was my "file" leader, from time to time he had to correct me. That was part of what I expected as he trained and led me, and I'm fortunate that he saw it as his responsibility, as well. I remember on one occasion in particular, he asked to speak with me after a meeting I'd conducted. He thanked me for what I had said in that meeting, and then very clearly pointed out where I'd gone afoul of specific instructions he'd given in a recent training meeting. And yet, he did it with such love that I was happy to hear his feedback, even though I was embarrassed that he had to give it to me. But, sensing that reaction in me, he also put me at ease and let me know that he loved me (and I knew he did).

It was, as far as I can tell, a near perfect execution of D&C 121:43 ("Reproving betimes with sharpness…"): his correction came immediately after the meeting where I had made a mistake, his instructions were very clear and fact-based (no emotions), and he showed a great deal of love before and after his correction, both in our conversation and in his actions long after the meeting.

In our lives we are sometimes in a position to offer correction to others. Perhaps, as in the case of my stake president, it is because of our leadership calling. Perhaps it's because we're parents. I think my stake president's example is instructive in a variety of situations.

There are times when we might want to offer correction and it's not our place to do so. We may be critical of something someone else is doing. We may know a better way. We may be certain that they are out of touch with the latest direction / counsel / fashion / trend. What to do then? I suppose one possibility is to invoke the lessons of steadying the ark (2 Samuel 6:6-7). Uzzah put forth his hand to steady the ark when he thought it might fall. He was not called to do so, and he was struck dead. On the opposite end of the continuum is to offer our opinions freely to all who will listen.

I try (but do not always succeed) to err on the side of caution when it comes to offering correction, particularly in a church setting. We're all volunteers, after all, and we're all trying to do our best. But I think of my experience with my stake president: I was grateful for his correction, and I needed it, too. I can think of times when my concern for how someone might respond kept me from offering correction when it was due. In so doing, perhaps I feared man more than God.

In my family, I probably could be more gentle, and I am now more gentle than I used to be. I had a friend with whom I served who suggested that some of us were "old sarges" when it came to correcting our children. His view was sarges were probably good for boot camp, but not for scout leaders or fathers. Some of my kids probably thought I was an old sarge, and they'd probably agree with my friend, as I do.

When it comes to offering correction when it's none of my business, I need to overcome the urge to gossip. My wife is quite good at gently reminding me (mostly by her example) to keep my mouth shut.

Have you had a particularly positive experience receiving or giving correction?


  1. My most recent experience was probably on my blog; I wrote a follow-up post, to address all the comments I got. It's always helpful to realize that you haven't maybe expressed yourself as well as you'd like. In my case, I was lucky enough to have had it pointed out to me, by several people, in a useful and constructive way.

    In non-internet life, I really struggle with giving correction. I like to think I'm pretty good at receiving it, but even when I really should step up and say something, I have a hard time doing it--and doing it effectively. A friend of mine pointed out to me, in his church leadership capacity, that I'm really failing where a certain family member's situation is concerned; he said it was like watching someone drown, and not pulling them out, because you were afraid of pulling their hair and hurting them. He gave me a blessing regarding, as he put it, "finding my roar". I'm still working on it.

  2. You raise a good point. Sometimes the "correction" we offer may be a hand up to someone else in need. And finding the way to do it in a way that is helpful is challenging, indeed.

    "Finding my roar" -- good expression, with thanks to Simba...

  3. I enjoyed this post. Thanks for the insights.

    (And I liked CJ's example of watching someone drown...)

  4. Robin,

    Thanks for reading and for the comment!