Sunday, March 29, 2009

To Whom Should We Listen?

Seth Godin says don’t listen to your critics or your fans. Instead, delight those people who share you good works with others. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Especially for authors. “What you need to do,” a critic says, “is to hang up your quill and stop writing.” We turn from that to our fans who all ask, “What are you writing? When will your next book be out?” If that’s all there is, neither is of much help. Seth suggests we turn our attention to those people who tell friends, “this is a great book! You should read it.” (Thanks, Mom.)

Many years ago, there was a king who had a brother. His bother had a wife and through some course of events, the king and his brother’s wife decided that they liked being in the same bed together. So, that’s what they did. Things may have gone well for a while, but at length a man by the name of John visited the king. “It is not lawful for thee to have they brother’s wife,” John said. The king did not want to hear this, so he threw John in to prison where he wouldn’t be able to cause trouble. Later, at the king’s birthday party, the king’s brother’s wife’s daughter danced in such a way that it pleased the king and he offered her anything, up to half his kingdom. She asked her mother, who told her to ask for John’s head on a plater. This displeased the king, but he had them bring John’s head to the girl, who gave it to her mother. At last, the king’s greatest critic was silenced. But it didn’t end there. As years passed, John’s friends took up where he left off and the king began to kill them as he had John. Fear spread quickly. But things weren’t going as well as he would have liked and he was having some trouble with a neighboring country. Then one day, the neighboring country sent ambassadors to speak with the king and keep the peace. They wanted to butter him up, so when the king sat on his throne and gave a speech, they became his biggest fans and cried out, “It is the voice of a god, and not a man!” How his heart must have swelled within him, but it didn’t last for long. God send an angel who immediately killed the king because he didn’t give glory to God.

Imagine how different this king’s life would have been if he had chosen to listen to his biggest critic, instead of silencing him. The king certainly knew how to make an idea spread, if that’s what it means to take care of your sneezers, to use Seth’s terminology, but was it the right thing to do? In the end, it resulted in the king’s pride pushing him to listen to his fans and he suffered the consequences.

There is much to be said for encouraging those who tell others about us to keep doing do, but we must handle the critics and fans in a wise way. A critic may be more than someone who opposes us, but he may be a messenger from God showing us our need for repentance, as is the case with the king above. What of the fans? Will we be lifted up with pride or will we understand that they may be buttering us up for their benefit? We might as well consider the sneezers. What if one of them happens to post on a blog something along the lines of, “In his book he speaks with the voice of God.” Will we oppose this statement, or will we stand unprotected from the hands of an angry God?

I won’t say that Seth is wrong. There is some truth in what he has said, but we must be careful. Our choice of advisers should not be determined by how much they support and enable the course of action we have already chosen. We should instead listen to those who speak words of wisdom and set our direction based on that wisdom.