You will tell me that there are also those who speak well of one. But oh, daughters, how few there are who believe the good things they say by comparison with the many who dislike us! In any case, to be well spoken of is only one trial more and a worse one than those already mentioned. (Teresa of Avila: Sixth Mansions: Chapter One)
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
so a person is tested by being praised. (Proverbs 27.21)
In a previous post I noted, “Preparation for intimacy (with God) comes, in part, through suffering”. According to Teresa we will experience many interior and exterior trials. The first trial Teresa talks about comes from The Critics. The critics are those who inflict damage through criticism, gossip, contempt, and lying. A second trial comes through praise.
Praise is more dangerous than criticism. Teresa says, “In any case, to be well spoken of is only one trial more and a worse one than those already mentioned.” Criticism and praise are rarely accurate. When we indiscriminately believe either one of them we discard a proper view of ourselves (Self-knowledge). When we embrace criticism at face value it distorts our self-knowledge so we cannot see The Beauty and Dignity of Our Souls — an essential mind-set of spiritually healthy people. When we shape ourselves by the praise of others we forget we were in “dire poverty and plunged deep into sin” and that our goodness originates with God.
Those with self-knowledge must guard against the Trail of Praise. Teresa gives four reasons:
- Those with self-knowledge recognize people are fickle. They “will speak well of others as readily as ill, and so it takes no more notice of the former class than of the latter.”
- Those with self-knowledge know that our goodness comes from God. The “Lord has given it greater light and shown it that anything good it may have does not come from itself, but is His Majesty’s gift”.
- Those with self-knowledge recognize that God grants them favors in order to bless others. God’s favors are not a commentary on our goodness, but on His grace and generosity.
- Those with self-knowledge seek the “honor and glory” of God. The opinions of others are irrelevant.
John Wooden said, “You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.”