At any rate, after one of my early columns had curtsied and left the stage, an indignant letter to the editor appeared, written by, as I recall, a gent named Terry Lawhead. It ran thus, and after all these years I believe I can still quote it verbatim. “Editor, Doug Wilson is a complete idiot. Terry Lawhead, Moscow.” My dear wife read this penetrating analysis before I got home, and of course this kind of thing was a complete novelty … our very first encounter with liberal tolerance. She said reading that was like getting punched in the stomach. When I got home, we talked it through and adopted the official demeanor toward hostile criticism that we have sought to maintain in our home ever since that time. I suggested that Nancy reply with her own letter to the editor. It should run, “Editor, Terry Lawhead doesn’t know the half of it. Nancy Wilson, Moscow.” She thought that might come across a tad disrespectful, but she did clip out Terry’s letter for a place of honor on our fridge.
But this does create another problem. Does not a breezy and cavalier dismissal of criticism like this create a macho mentality that considers itself above correction no matter what? And who wants to be that guy? We all need correction, and we all should be open to the kind that would help us — even if it is from people who don’t know us, or even from people who are hostile.
The key here, for anybody in the midst of the fray, is to have family and friends who have open access to you, and who have the liberty to say that a particular criticism strikes them as valid, or to offer criticisms of their own. It might be an editor, it could be a friend, it might be your elders, it could be your wife or kids — or if you are a blessed writer, it could be all of them. If you are blessed with this kind of vertebrate companionship, you know that their views are not being driven by the fear of man — what a death trap that is! They will tell you when they believe you should grant a particular point, and you can trust them. You know how open to correction they are in face-to-face life, and they know how open to it you are. You know their commitment to principle, and they know yours. If a critic is right, they will tell you, and you should say so. If he isn’t, be deaf to expediency.