For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. – Hebrews 12:6
We live in society where people are often defensive when it comes to receiving correction. A common phrase folk tend to use when approached with feedback designed to reveal a personal or professional flaw is that the person giving the feedback is ‘hating.’ Their first reaction is to defend, place blame, deflect responsibility, or simply rise up against what may be helpful advice. There is a common saying, “Only God can judge me.” Often that’s psycho–babble for, “Don’t say nothing about my ignorant or destructive ways.”
Most of us don’t like being corrected. It’s in our nature. That’s not always a negative depending on the context.
I remember working in a payroll position. And for eleven years I made significant contributions day in and day out. My boss, a great man, occasionally questioned a project I worked on or corrected me in my processes. I would listen and adjust my practices when instructed, but there would often be an intense conversation along the way. He said he liked that I was that way because he knew that I really cared about doing a great job. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to be better, but I took pride in excellence. The thought of not being perfect peeved me in the worst way. My motivation had merit. But the pride that drove me was at times my worst enemy. I’ll get back to that.
Seldom does correction ‘feel’ good. But it’s a valuable tool that’s totally essential for growth. There are always opportunities to be critiqued because none of us are perfect. Of course not all criticisms are valid. However, the way in which we handle critique say a lot about whether we are fit for promotion.
I’ve had the opportunity to be mentored by a veteran official of over 35 years. He has worked multiple high school state title games in three sports. Obviously an older gentleman, his words are not always politically correct. His had a tough and disciplined upbringing by two stern parents in the segregated South. And his straight forward approach seldom has nuance.
I originally knew this man growing up as a teacher and sports official when I attended high school. He officiated many of my own games. I doubt that he remembered me. The first time he saw me on the ball field as a young umpire, he eyed me from head to toe pointing out what was wrong with my uniform, and how I held my ball/strike/out indicator in the wrong hand. He also tore into me for wearing a shiny watch (not good as it reflects in the sun) and on and on. Inside I felt like, “Well damn dude, nice to see you again too.”
For some reason, I had the presence of mind not to let him see me sweat. Instead, I hung around and allowed him to make fun of me in front of the other guys. I shook my head in the affirmative, smiled and thanked him for helping me out. I bought a non reflective watch, and made every other adjustment per his instructions.
He kept in touch and hired me for a few high school games. Sometimes I got to work directly with him as his on the field partner. This was scary because I didn’t know how I would stack up or if I would meet his expectations. Needless to say, my trepidation was clairvoyant. At the end of each half inning he summoned me and asked me various question about what I was doing and why. I remember being on the bases and when a runner was tagged out I belted, “HE’S OUT AT THIRD!” I was told by the cagy veteran, “Us umpires are dumb! We only speak in one word terms. We say ‘out’, ‘safe,’ ‘ball,’ ‘strike.’ We don’t announce the game. You’re not Harry Carey!”
He gave it to me every time he had a chance. But I took it in and learned. I focused on not making the same mistakes over and over again. These lessons continued as we worked together more in the later months. I began to improve. As I got better he started giving me respect. Instead of rhetoric exclusively geared towards instructions he started to speak casually, even making jokes. Sometimes he’d even ask me about my personal life to get to know me better.
Last year this mentor of mine was inducted into the Illinois High School Activities Hall of Fame. My wife and I drove to the Bloomington-Normal, Illinois to share in his honor with many of his family, friends, and fellow officials.
Now when we work together he still quizzes me sometimes. He still gives instructions as he is always the educator. I am still a bit nervous, more so out of respect. I always learn something new when work together. But I also noticed that he is proud of me. When we used to meet in the parking lot for pre-game he would tell me whether I was working the plate or the field. Now he asks me what my preferences are. One time he even said, “It’s my turn to work the plate Chris. I gotcha.” Now he looks at me like a partner not as a scrub.
You see the ‘drill sergeant’ has long retired from the sport. He’s received all of the accolades one can get from his profession as a teacher and official. But his motivation for me was to see me advance and be one of the people to carry the torch of my generation. He merely hangs around now to assign guys like me games and expose us to people and places because this business is very political. There was a time when Black American officials didn’t get much work if any from Caucasian assignors. It’s still that way in a lot of places. So his entire aim was never to demean or embarrass me. (Though at times I’m telling you he did.) He simply wants me to be the best at my craft. I have to be on top of my game to succeed and reach my potential. He told me recently, “I want you to be a state finals official.”
I love him for that.
Now, if I would have been a knuckle head and rebelled, ignored his advice, thought to myself the man is old, out of touch or hating, where would that leave me?
I’ve always been a mentor myself so I get it. When I see a person who consistently refuse the counsel I offer, I’ll keep my knowledge to myself. When people cease talking to us about our flaws and we are allowed to flail about aimlessly thinking that we are performing well when in reality we are not, that is actually a judgment upon our lives. It’s saying in effect, “There is no hope for you. I will not waste my time, or my breath trying to dress a pig with pearls.”
As I said before every criticism is not necessarily valid. But listening never hurt anyone. The best thing to do, even if you initially disagree is to consider and reflect on what has been said first. If you find it to be true, take heed and make change. If it’s not, keep it moving.
Unfortunately, pride keeps us from even contemplating and thus prevents us from promotion to our next level. But that great evangelist and teacher Marcellus Wallace said it best, “Fuck pride! Pride only hurts, it never helps. Fight through that shit.”
How poignant… Especially today of all days!