I remember a classmate in college who had this annoying habit of prefacing each utterance with, “Correct me if I’m wrong...” It wasn’t the phrase that bothered us. It was the fact that he didn’t mean it! He was never open to anyone’s opinion. I have to admit, though, even when I’ve said, “Correct me if I’m wrong,” I doubt I meant it.

Who really wants to be corrected?

Having spent time in college classes and other settings with some pretty wise people, many have told me in one way or another, “Make it a habit of saying, ‘Correct me if I’m wrong,’ and really mean it. That makes you wise.”

I know what you’re thinking. This is not the way we look at or respond to correction. Our natural inclination is to avoid correction at all costs; to make ourselves immune to it; to get defensive; to attack and criticize our critics. But to actually seek it out, to welcome it, to thank and respect those who correct us, even seeing critics as allies, not enemies – many seldom take that path.

One of my favorite proverbs says, “If you pay attention when you are corrected, you are wise. If you refuse to learn, you are hurting yourself. If you accept correction, you will become wiser” (The Book of Proverbs 15:31-32).

How we respond to correction is a sign of character and maturity. To welcome it, to listen and learn from it shows that we are wise and may well become wiser.

I remember writing my first article for publication. I worked on it for weeks. Thought it was the best thing anyone had ever written. Sent it to a magazine. In a few weeks, it was returned to me with red writing all over it (like my English teachers once used) and attached was a three-page letter. The editor went into great detail about everything I had done wrong. In fact, he had each paragraph of the article numbered for easy reference.

My first response was to crumple up the whole packet and throw it across the room into the corner. I was angry and hurt. Who was he to write those things about my writing? Didn’t he recognize talent when he saw it? And I even composed a letter to him that would have scorched his fingers had I sent it. But I didn’t.

After a few days, I picked up the wad of paper. I read his letter again and looked back over my article. And you know what? He was right. I also realized what a busy man he must have been and yet he took time to write a three-page letter to help me (not many editors will do that these days). I took his corrections to heart and rewrote the article. It was purchased. Sometimes a critic can be a very good friend.

I’m not saying that all criticism is good or equal. Not everyone who criticizes us is trying to help us nor is their criticism always correct or justified. We don’t have to take every bit of criticism to heart. Simply look for any good you can find in it, take and act on that, and let the rest go.

One day a woman was driving in the mountains. She was coming to a sharp curve and couldn’t see around it. Suddenly, a pickup truck comes around the curve and the driver yells, “COW!!!” Well, the woman is so insulted that she sticks her head out the window and yells back, “PIG!!!”And she’s so angry that she puts the pedal to the metal and zooms around the curve, only to run right into a large cow standing in the middle of her lane!

The next time someone yells, “COW!!!” in your direction or says something that sounds like correction or criticism, don’t yell back. Don’t take it too personally. Listen. Slow down. Take it easy going around those curves. That’s just a wise way to live…literally sometimes.

Bass Mitchell is a writer living in New Market, Virginia, who guesses that, in light of the topic of this article, should be open to any critiques of it you may offer…practicing what he writes.