Quotes on Criticism

See also: D&C:1:14; 108:7; Exodus 16:8; Psalms 15:3; Exodus 15:24

If you are prone to criticize or judge, remember, we never see the target a man aims at in life.  We see only what he hits. — Elder H. Burke Peterson, Ensign, November 1983, p. 60

Murmuring is defined as a half-suppressed resentment or muttered complaint. . . .

How handy inspired but imperfect leaders in the Church are as focal points for our frustrations, especially if circumstances require them to suffer in silence!  Having confidence in leaders who keep confidences is part of sustaining them. — Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “Murmur Not,” Ensign, November 1989, p. 82

We live in a society that feeds on criticism.  Faultfinding is the substance of columnists and commentators, and there is too much of this among our own people.  It is so easy to find fault, and to resist doing so requires much of discipline.  But if as a people we will build and sustain one another, the Lord will bless us with the strength to weather every storm and continue to move forward through every adversity.  The enemy of truth would divide us and cultivate within us attitudes of criticism which, if permitted to prevail, will only deter us in the pursuit of our great divinely given goal.  We cannot afford to permit it to happen.  We must close ranks and march shoulder to shoulder, the strong helping the weak, those with much assisting those with little.  No power on earth can stop this work if we shall so conduct ourselves. — President Gordon B. Hinckley, General Conference, April 1982

“Your name is safe in our home.”  What a blessing it would be if all of us could follow that counsel, if each of our names truly were safe in the home of others.  Have you noticed how easy it is to cross over the line and find fault with other people?  All too often we seek to be excused from the very behavior we condemn in others.  Mercy for me, justice for everyone else is a much too common addiction.  When we deal with the name and reputation of another, we deal with something sacred in the sight of the Lord. — Elder Cree-L Kofford, General Conference, April 1999

When we see people struggling with certain aspects of the gospel or with living certain commandments, we should endeavor not to be too critical of them.  Elder Henry B. Eyring said, when someone pointed out to him that a certain person was doing a multitude of things wrong:  “Never criticize development of one principle while development of other principles is in progress.” — Matthew Richardson, BYU Education Week, August 2004

I often wonder why some feel they must be critical of others.  It gets in their blood, I suppose, and it becomes so natural they often don’t even think about it.  They seem to criticize everyone – the way Sister Jones leads the music, the way Brother Smith teaches a lesson or plants his garden.

Even when we think we are doing no harm by our critical remarks, consequences often follow.  I am reminded of a boy who handed a donation envelope to his bishop and told him it was for him.  The bishop using this as a teaching moment, explained to the boy that he should mark on the donation slip whether it was for tithing, fast offerings, or for something else.  The boy insisted the money was for the bishop himself.  When the bishop asked why, the boy replied, “Because my father says you’re one of the poorest bishops we’ve ever had.” — Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, “The Virtue of Kindness,” Ensign, May 2005, p. 27

Let us trust in our leaders.  Trust in our leaders can be lost very easily.  In fact, let me illustrate how easily it can be lost with another situation.  There was a young man with whom I grew up in a Mormon community.  He was active the same way I was.  His parents were active and strong, but there was a situation that developed in that home.  After every Church meeting on the way home and at home in that little farming community, the parents played one of their favorite indoor games:

He would say, “Honey, did you notice that the bishop made a mistake?  He had to be corrected by his counselor in that announcement.”

And he would say, “Yes, and did you notice that the Sunday School superintendent made a mistake and announced the wrong hymn?”

And she would say, “Yes, and did you notice that the Sunday School teacher could have used better scriptures, and also got a little bit off the subject?”

Then she would say, “Did you notice so-and-so’s hat?”

In the process they diminished the efforts of the people who were there.  It didn’t affect them.  He went on to be called into the stake presidency.  In fact, after that, I don’t think they commented very much about other people’s personal failings and weaknesses because they were then on the other side of the line.  They later became temple workers.  But that son – hearing the human frailties of the leaders – when he went into the service, when he continued his life, strayed far from the paths of the Church because he had not developed a full trust and respect for the leaders of the Church in spite of their human frailties. — Elder Robert E. Wells, “In God We Trust,” BYU Devotional, June 29, 1982, pp. 4-5

Satan will always work on the Saints of God to undermine their faith in priesthood keys.  One way he does it is to point out the humanity of those who hold them. . . .

The warning for us is plain.  If we look for human frailty in humans, we will always find it.  When we focus on finding the frailties of those who hold priesthood keys, we run risks for ourselves.  When we speak or write to others of such frailties, we put them at risk.

We live in a world where finding fault in others seems to be the favorite blood sport. . . . To keep ourselves grounded in the Lord’s Church, we can and must train our eyes to recognize the power of the Lord in the service of those He has called. — Elder Henry B. Eyring, “Faith and Keys,” Ensign, November 2004, p. 28

May we go forth with greater resolution to defend one another in righteous living, to defend the Church, not to speak against our neighbors, or against authorities of the Church, local, stake, or general.  Let us avoid evil speaking; let us avoid slander and gossip.  These are poisons to the soul to those who indulge.  Evil speaking injures the reviler more than the reviled.  (Conf. Report, April 1969, pp. 95-96)

There are destruction termites of homes, as well as of houses, and some of these are backbiting, evil-speaking, faultfinding on the part either of parents or of children.  Slander is poison to the soul.  “Slanderers are like flies that pass all over a man’s good parts to light only on his sores.”  In the ideal home, there is no slanderous gossip about . . . schoolteachers, about public officials, or Church officials.  I am more grateful now, as years have come and gone, to my father, who with hands lifted said, “Now, no faultfinding about your teacher or anybody else.”  (Conference Report, April 1953, p. 16) Teachings of Presidents of the Church, David O. McKay, p. 43

I think sometimes of the words of the Apostle James in regard to the power of the tongue.  [James 1:26; 3:5,8; 4:11]  What good can be accomplished by using the powers of speech in the proper direction!  What wrong can be accomplished when these powers are prostituted to speak evil.  “Thou shalt not speak evil of the Lord’s anointed.”  I hope you recognize that saying.  We are under promise that we will not do it.  We should speak that which is good, not that which is evil.  And we should hesitate when we find an opportunity, or when some circumstance arises which might induce us to say something that would be improper in regard to our brethren.  James says:  “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity,” it “setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. . . .”  [James 3:6]

We should be careful what we say.  If we cannot say anything good, let us hold our tongues, and do as the mother sometimes roughly tells the children, “Shut your mouth.”  It is a good thing to be able to shut your mouth, and to keep it shut, when you ought not to talk; and it’s a good thing to be able to open your mouth at the proper time and at the proper season and bring forth words of eternal life for the blessing, enlightenment, comfort and consolation of the sons of men. — Elder Charles W. Penrose, Conference Report, April 1904, p. 71

When people complain against the leaders of the Church, they are complaining against the Lord.  The Prophet Joseph Smith warned: “It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives.” — President Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 156-57

President David O. McKay showed the direct relationship between criticism and murmuring in this statement: 

“In the Church we sometimes find two groups of people: the builders and the murmurers.  Let each ask himself:  ‘In which class should I be placed?’ 

“We are called upon to perform duties. When the priesthood and auxiliary leadership introduce new programs, many of the members will say, ‘Yes, we will do it.  Let us perform in these new programs.’   But sometimes we hear a murmurer, a faultfinder, who will say, ‘No.  We cannot do that.’  Misjudging motives, some soon find themselves with Laman and Lemuel instead of with Nephi, whose actions expressed willingness to follow the voice of God.  (See 1 Ne. 17:17ff.)

“Let us watch ourselves and be true to the examples set by our leaders.  The warning is sometimes expressed:  ‘Speak not against the authorities.’  What does it mean? It means ‘be not a murmurer.’  Murmuring against priesthood and auxiliary leadership is one of the most poisonous things that can be introduced into the home of a Latter-day Saint.  Why are leaders called to their positions?  To benefit themselves?  No, not once can one point to an instance in this Church where a person was called for his personal benefit.  When a call is made, it is made to bless someone, some class, or humanity at large.  That is the mission of every member, from the President of the Church down to the latest convert.  Everyone holds his position to build up, to bless, to establish righteousness, purity, and virtue among mankind.”  (“Four Guideposts,” Improvement Era, Mar. 1969, p. 3) Old Testament Student Manual, p. 122

I am glad that you are young, and I hope you are enthusiastic, because there is a terrible ailment of pessimism in the land.  It’s almost endemic.  We’re constantly fed a steady and sour diet of character assassination, faultfinding, evil speaking of one another. . . . The tragedy is that this spirit of negativism seems to prevail throughout the country.

I come this evening with a plea that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight.  I’m suggesting that we accentuate the positive.  I’m asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort. . . .

My dear young friends, don’t partake of the spirit of our times.  Look for the good and build on it.  There is so much of the sweet and the decent and the good to build upon.

You are partakers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The gospel means “good news.”  The message of the Lord is one of hope and salvation.  The voice of the Lord is a voice of gladness.  The work of the Lord is a work of glorious and certain reward.  I do not suggest that you simply put on rose-colored glasses to make the world look rosy.  I ask, rather, that you look above and beyond the negative, the critical, the cynical, the doubtful, to the positive. — President Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Lord Is at the Helm,” March 6, 1994, pp. 3-4, 8

Criticism, faultfinding, evil speaking – these are of the spirit of the day.  To hear tell, there is nowhere a man of integrity holding public office.  All businessmen are crooks.  The utilities are out to rob you.  Even on campus there is heard so much the snide remark, the sarcastic jibe, the cutting down of associates – these, too often, are the essence of our conversation.  In our homes, wives weep and children finally give up under the barrage of criticism leveled by abusive husbands and fathers.  Criticism is the forerunner of divorce, the cultivator of rebellion, sometimes the catalyst that leads to failure.  In the Church, it sows the seed of inactivity and finally apostasy.

I come to you tonight with a plea that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight.  I am suggesting that as we go through life we try to “accentuate the positive.”  I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort.  Now I am not asking that all criticism be silenced. Growth comes of correction. Strength comes of repentance.  Wise is the man or woman who can acknowledge mistakes pointed out by others and change his or her course.
            What I am suggesting is that you turn from the negativism that so permeates our modern society and look for the remarkable good among those with whom you associate, that we speak of one another’s virtues more than we speak of one another’s faults, that optimism replace pessimism, that our faith exceed our fears.  When I was a young man and was prone to speak critically, my wise father would say:  “Cynics do not contribute.  Skeptics do not create.  Doubters do not achieve.” — President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled,” BYU Devotional, October 29, 1974

Imperfect people are, in fact, called by our perfect Lord to assist in His work.  The Lord declared to certain associates of Joseph Smith that He knew that they had observed Joseph’s minor imperfections.  Even so, the Lord then testified that the revelations given through the Prophet were true!  (See D&C 67:5, 9.)

Unsurprisingly, therefore, we do notice each other’s weaknesses.  But we should not celebrate them.  Let us be grateful for the small strides that we and others make, rather than rejoice in the shortfalls.  And when mistakes occur, let them become instructive, not destructive. — Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “‘A Brother Offended’,” Ensign, May 1982, p. 37

Now for persons to do things, merely because they are advised to do them, and yet murmur all the time they are doing them, is of no use at all;  they might as well not do them.

There are those who profess to be saints who are too apt to murmur, and find fault, when any advice is given, which comes in opposition to their feelings, even when they, themselves, ask for counsel;  much more so when council is given unasked for, which does not agree with their notion of things; but brethren, we hope for better things from the most of you;  we trust that you desire counsel, from time to time, and that you will cheerfully conform to it, whenever you receive it from a proper source. — Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 4:45

Leaders of the Church are men with human frailties, and are imperfect in their wisdom and judgment.  Perfection in men is not found on the earth.  But these leaders, hold a divine warrant and commission through which great and eternal blessings come to those who sustain and follow them. — Elder James E. Faust, Conference Report, Oct. 1985, p. 8

“Speak not against the authorities.”  What does it mean?  Be not a murmurer; that is what it means.  It is one of the most poisonous things that can be introduced into the home of a Latter-day Saint – this murmuring against presidents of stakes, high councilors, Sunday School superintendents, etc. . . . 

Better stop murmuring and build.  Remember that one of the worst means of tearing down an individual is slander.  It is one of the most poisonous weapons that the evil one uses.  Backbiting and evil speaking throw us into the class of malefactors rather than the class of benefactors. — President David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, Improvement Era, 1953, pp. 142-43

We all have our weaknesses and failings.  Sometimes the husband sees a failing in his wife, and he upbraids her with it.  Sometimes the wife feels that her husband has not done just the right thing, and she upbraids him.  What good does it do?  Is not forgiveness better?  Is not charity better?  Is not love better?  Isn’t it better not to speak of faults, not to magnify weaknesses by iterating and reiterating them?  Isn’t that better?  and will not the union that has been cemented between you and the birth of children and by the bond of the new and everlasting covenant, be more secure when you forget to mention weaknesses and faults one of another?  Is it not better to drop them and say nothing about them – bury them and speak only of the good that you know and feel, one for another, and thus bury each other’s faults and not magnify them; isn’t that better?” — President Joseph F. Smith, “Sermon on Home Government,” Millennial Star, 25 Jan. 1912, pp. 49-50

Among my most prized possessions are words I have not spoken in anger. — Anonymous

In a dating and courtship relationship, I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, one who is constantly critical of you, one who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor.  Life is tough enough without the person who is supposed to love you leading the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence, and your joy.  In this person’s care, you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure. — Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “How Do I Love Thee?” BYU Devotional, Feb. 15, 2000

In this long eternal quest to be more like our Savior, may we try to be “perfect” men and women in at least this one way now – by offending not in word, or more positively put, by speaking with a new tongue, the tongue of angels.  Our words, like our deeds, should be filled with faith and hope and charity, the three great Christian imperatives so desperately needed in the world today. — Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Tongue of Angels,” Ensign, May 2007

Aren’t we rather prone to see the limitations and the weaknesses of our neighbors? Yet that is contrary to the teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  There is a class of people who find fault and criticize always in a destructive way.  There is a difference in criticism.  If we can criticize constructively under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord, we may change beneficially and properly some of the things that are being done.  But if we have the spirit of fault finding, of pointing out the weaknesses and failings of others in a destructive manner, that never comes as a result of the companionship of the Spirit of our Heavenly Father and is always harmful.  (In Conference Report, Oct. 1934, 50.) Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, “The Power of Kindness”

            Said James:  “For in many things we offend all.  [But] if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.”

            Continuing the imagery of the bridle, he writes: “Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.

            “Behold also . . . ships, which though they be . . . great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm.”

            Then James makes his point:  “The tongue is [also] a little member. . . . [But] behold, how great a [forest (Greek)] a little fire [can burn].

            “. . . So is the tongue [a fire] among our members, . . it defileth the whole body, . . it is set on fire of hell.

            “For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, . . hath been tamed of mankind:

            “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

            “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.

            “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing.  My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”  (James 3:2–10)

            Well, that is pretty straightforward!  Obviously James doesn’t mean our tongues are always iniquitous, nor that everything we say is “full of deadly poison.” But he clearly means that at least some things we say can be destructive, even venomous – and that is a chilling indictment for a Latter-day Saint!  The voice that bears profound testimony, utters fervent prayer, and sings the hymns of Zion can be the same voice that berates and criticizes, embarrasses and demeans, inflicts pain and destroys the spirit of oneself and of others in the process.  “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing,” James grieves.  “My brethren [and sisters], these things ought not so to be.” — Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Tongue of Angels,” Ensign, May 2007

It is the tongue that causes the evils that exist in the world; it is the tongue that sets nations at war; it is the tongue that causes broils in the domestic circle; it is the tongue that causes the fire of animosity and ill-will to burn in our midst.  If we can succeed in governing the tongue according to the mind and will of God, we have got peace in our families, peace in our neighborhoods, peace in our community, and, what is more than all, we have peace with our God; for he that offendeth not in word, the same is a perfect man.  Show me a perfect man that does not have peace with his God, and you will show me something I never saw or heard of.  If we can govern the tongue, we are prepared then to enter upon the government of other matters; but I think we shall have plenty to do, at least for the present, to govern our tongues, even the best that are under the sound of my voice; for there is no person but that sometimes speaks unadvisedly with his lips – but that sometimes lets off an improper word; for the tongue or mouth is merely the valve of the heart – the place where the sentiments are discharged that have been confined in the heart, and that is the true index to the real inner man.  Hence, “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by them thou shalt be condemned.”  Who of us this morning can say that we have not offended in word, even this morning?  Can we say that we have not offended in word since the new year of 1858 began?  1857 is gone by; 1858 is now before us.  Have we offended in word since this year began? – for I am sure that you all prayed that, with the close of the year, your sins might be canceled and swept away into the gulf of forgetfulness, that they be brought against you no more.  Then I trust that you have entered upon the new year with a clean page – turned over a new leaf.  Is there a spot or blemish upon that new page thus far until now?  Have none of us offended in word?  If we have not, so far we are perfect, and able also to bridle the whole body.  This will do then, perhaps, for the regulation and control of the tongue. — “Self-Government,” a sermon by Elder Orson Hyde, delivered in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, January 3, 1858; Journal of Discourses, Vol. 6, pp. 150-58

Every influence for peace ought to be exercised.  Lucifer is exercising every means to destroy the souls of the human family.  He is more active than he has ever been and he works in such an insidious way.  I will not take time to enumerate the many ways he employs but there is one way in which he operates, and has operated from the beginning of the world, and that is to tempt one individual to destroy the reputation of another by saying unkind things of them.  (“To the Relief Society,” Relief Society Magazine, Dec. 1932, 704.) . . .

As a people we are advised not to be critical, not to be unkind, not to speak harshly of those with whom we associate.  We ought to be the greatest exemplars in all the world in that regard.  Consider the criticism today.  Pick up your newspapers and see the unkind things that are being said by individuals about others, and yet many times the individual who is criticizing has a beam in his own eye and does not see at all clearly, but he does think his brother has a mote in his eye.  (In Conference Report, Oct. 1949, 168–69.) Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, pp. 225-26

The primary reason we are commanded to avoid criticism is to preserve our own spiritual well-being, not to protect the person whom we would criticize. . . . Does this counsel to avoid faultfinding and personal criticism apply only to statements that are false?  Doesn’t it also apply to statements that are true?  The fact that something is true is not always a justification for communicating it . . . . For example, it is wrong to make statements of fact out of an evil motive, even if the statements are true.  One who focuses on faults, though they be true, tears down a brother or a sister. . . . One who focuses on faults, though they be true, fosters dissensions and divisions among fellow Church members in the body of Christ. — Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Criticism,” Ensign, February 1987, pp. 68-9