I have a critical eye for detail. Looking at something, I can easily spot mistakes. For an editor, this is a very helpful quality to have. Misplaced modifiers, misspellings, misuse of verb tenses — my eye zooms in on them, and my pen quickly corrects.
Yes, this gift serves me well when I am writing and editing. But it’s not quite so helpful when I am not being an editor, when I am being a mom or a teacher or a friend. In those areas, this natural tendency to focus in on the errors is more a curse than a gift.
To tell you the truth, this is one of those pitfalls I have to vigilantly watch out for — this tendency to live life with a red pen in my hand, noting and correcting mistakes. My children have fairly accused me of noticing the one thing they did wrong rather than the twenty things they did right in a day. They have justifiably gotten upset when I have zoomed in on the one child disobeying rather than the five children obeying.
When I look through a stack of school papers, my natural tendency is to want to comment on the one assignment that got a C, ignoring the seven assignments that got A’s. When I climb the stairs to approve a room-cleaning chore, the giant red pen in my brain circles the few things crammed under the bed rather than starring the toys neatly tucked into bins and the LEGOS fastidiously displayed on the dresser.
Honestly, my critical eye helps when I’m editing a magazine article, but hurts my relationships. Years ago, my editorial notes and critical comments, circling what I perceived to be errors in judgment, even cost me a valued friendship.
Because I don’t want to destroy my relationships, especially with my children, I pray for a spirit extra sensitive to this tendency. I pray for quick conviction when I start wielding the red pen too much in my relationships.
There are still plenty of times when I point out the errors far too much in ratio to the positive things I note. But I am recognizing that and trying to rein that in. Because I’m not writing a perfect magazine article; I’m loving and nurturing children. And too much of an editorial, critical spirit will exasperate them and provoke them to anger. And that would be counterproductive to my end-goal.
Do you have a giant red pen in your brain too? Today, my goal is to say at least 5 positive things for every correction I have to make. Will you try this with me? Let’s not note all the mistakes on the pages of our children’s lives without praising all the things they’re doing well. And let’s not miss the big picture by nit-picking the details.