March 18, 2014

The Ministry of the Red Pen by Dayne E. Mazzuca

why those hard-to-hear words still matter

When a culture fails to receive criticism, it's in trouble. It fails to grow, or improve, or include others in its doings. It becomes insular, defensive and self-righteous. As an Editor, I see this all the time. It's my job to offer others feedback that is meant to signal two things: one, I care; and two, I see how things might be better. But I find in life and in work few people appreciate the use of the Red Pen.

Having an Editorial Eye is not limited to the written page. For instance, I'll offer a pastor feedback on his sermon, suggesting the use of visual aids is overdone. I'll suggest to the principal of my online school board that he encourage parents and students in person. I'll tell my property management firm to treat their clients with respect. You get the idea.

Sadly, nine times out of ten, these suggestions are not well received. You can imagine why.

Still, it's hard to stop offering critique. It's like I carry a Red Pen with me wherever I go.

I've noticed most people don't like having a Red Pen mark up their efforts. They just want to feel loved, appreciated and approved of—as is. Don't we all.

But I still think the hallmark of a mature, growing organization, or individual, or piece of written work, is the one who can invite constructive feedback. The one who says, "Thanks! How else can I make this better?"

Since the only reason I'm offering feedback is because I'm one of the people they are trying to reach, I assume my opinion is valuable. But, so far, I can name on one hand the people who relish the Red Pen. Half of them are writers, who know the difference a critical eye can make to any piece of work—written or otherwise. The other half are simply people who impress me a great deal.

Ah well, some jobs are thankless and leave you feeling unloved, unappreciated and unapproved of—don't I know it!

By Dayna E. Mazzuca


  1. It sounds like you and I are a lot a like.
    Hebrews 12:6 says "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." KJV
    It is very hard to love people these days and truly want the best for them.

  2. Why do we rebel beneath correction...Pride? God bless the brave 'red pen' soldiers:)

    Really enjoyed this.

  3. Dayna, we all need people like you in our lives and in our organizations. You're right, feedback or criticism helps us grow. Most of us need it whether we want it or not!

  4. True, Dayna! We all squirm but how we need it!

  5. Just reading in yesterday's National Post that Narcissism has been increasing since the 70s--following the sexual revolution of the 60s!
    All part of the increasing self-interest since Christianity began to wane.
    We no longer like to hear negative things about ourselves--it lowers our self esteem. Adds up to disliking appropriate criticism and lowering cultural standards.
    Rejection of critiques is simply a reflection of the times. But I'm with you, keep doing what you're doing--nothing like honesty (Even if it is controversial!)

  6. This really spoke to me. I only wish we had a link so I could share it on my Facebook.

    I know some who are accepting critique and could really use the encouragement, and some who are fighting it.

    May I always keep my ears open to hear what the Lord wants me to hear.

  7. So true! it's time we got over ourselves and accept criticism as a constructive and necessary reality. IT MAKE US BETTER! I love the scriptures quoted in the comments, and Bryan's comment that narcissism has increased. I see this in action in my position as a teacher...

  8. Yes,
    It is hard to not think "we are always right". But truly, are we?
    That is why Jesus said to love above all else - because in loving we learn to accept others and their fallacies.
    I love your question, "How else can I make this better?" I always ask this of my art teacher - and her knowledge and eye can help me see what I can't.
    The same in our writing - that is why we have more eyes to look at what we write.

  9. I don't think anyone likes criticism, but those of us who wish to improve, appreciate the Red Pen!

  10. Maybe we as writers, or artists like Jan, love what we do enough to strive to improve our work. That is why critique groups and teachers among us are so important.

    I so appreciate the help of our local writing group for their kind, but valuable feedback on my writing. One of our gals can spot right away when I've got a second article or blog hidden in the first one. I love her for it.

    Having more than one set of eyes or ears is valuable to the artist, writer, or friend. The only way we can soften the blow of the red pen--learned this in teaching--is to offer the criticism as diplomatically as possible and to balance the critique with things we like about their writing or work.


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