Is it an aggressive act to correct someone? The short answer, as it often is, is “it depends.” Recently an online acquaintance of mine posted a poll about our attitude towards those have to correct others, and like another person who read the poll, I noticed it was missing an option, namely: I am that person. Throughout the course of my life, to the present-day, I have acquired a well-earned reputation for correcting other people when they are mistaken. At times this quality has been viewed as awkward but somewhat endearing, some people have found it generally helpful, and other people have been seriously annoyed and bothered by it. One time, a speaker and writer who was prone to making a lot of typos (something I can empathize with) gave a power point presentation that I saw twice, and there were three errors on the slide the first time I saw it and one that was still on it when I watched it a second time. He was not amused when I brought up the typos to him the first time and less amused when I did it the second time. This is not an atypical response.
The question, though, is whether it is an act of aggression to correct someone. A lot depends on the context. To the extent that we know ourselves, it is worthwhile for us to consider the motive which leads us to correct someone. A love for truth and an insistence that things be correct may lead us to correct someone when they say something or write something that is mistaken. A pride in our own knowledge will lead us to enjoy taking someone down a notch by showing that we know more about something than they do. The same act may have multiple motives, including a desire that a message be corrected so that it does not lead others astray or present a false impression of one’s own knowledge level, or it may be an introduction into a debate about whether or not something was in fact in error. It is hard for us to know all of the motives that may lead us to correct someone else, that may compel us to go up to someone and talk to them about something they are doing wrong or could be doing better. The only thing that we can control is how we take it when other people do it to us.
This is by no means a straightforward matter. I myself have been upset before by people coming to me with things. I have written, for example, about the irritation I felt when a coworker of mine tried to correct me on my parking , but then I had to ponder and realize that I probably do not park in a way that is most convenient for others and have tried to give more space to large vehicles next to me that may find my parking a bit too close for comfort. At other times I have thought that others fancied themselves to be far better at communicating awkward matters than they were, concerning my post-gout beard of the summer of 2019 as well as my occasional use of filler words as a speaker in one notable case that I almost blogged about in detail but decided not to. In short, as a somewhat thin-skinned person when it comes to dealing with the critiques of others, I can definitely understand that not everyone likes being corrected when they are at fault. And I would hope, in the interests of justice, that my own disinclination to be corrected has at least somewhat moderated the tone in which I correct others, knowing how little I like it myself and how important it is to have any correction of me done in as gracious a matter as possible with a fair amount of resentment and irritation when this is not done well. And for all of you dear readers who are inclined to think about your own skills in this matter, you probably do not do correct others as well or as graciously as you think you do.
The Bible has a lot to say about those who despise correction. Proverbs 15:5 tells us, for example, that a fool despises his father’s correction, but he who receives correction is prudent. More pessimistically, Proverbs 22:15 tells us that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him. In a similar tone, Proverbs 23:9 cautions us: “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words.” The point I’m getting at should be plain. To the extent that we are wise and discerning people, we will be less offended at the correction of others because we will see the good in it, and will likely have less that we need to be corrected for. To the extent that we are foolish, we will need correction more because we do and say more that is wrong, and we will resent it more because it offends our pride and dignity. Correction is only aggressive to the extent that we are fools and view it as a hostile act. Even correction that comes from a point of view of a proud person who is not nearly as gracious as they think they are can be of use, in that it communicates the opinion of the person giving the message and may in fact be something that is widely believed by others but not communicated because it is (probably correctly) thought that it will not be taken well. And even if this information can be painful, it is useful to know. Awkward people perform a valuable task in communicating unpopular and unpalatable truths, and we should be rewarded accordingly for providing such insight to those who desperately need it. So, the long answer is that if we think correction is aggressive, then we ought to be careful about what that says about us.