Dutch Uncles: Why We Need Them & Why We Need to Be Them…

My first short story received a “D” in my Creative Writing class two and a half years ago.

My first argumentative essay in Writing 121 received an “F” my freshman year.

And yet here is my 227th blog post.

“Dutch Uncle” is a term referring to a person who tells it like it is. It’s someone who doesn’t beat around the bush or make your mistakes look not that bad. They tell you your flaws and why they’re considered “flaws,” but without overlooking your strengths.

When I received that “F,” I turned off my TV, opened my laptop, and got to work on a better paper. And when I received that “D,” I closed my door, tuned everyone and everything out until I was so enthralled with the story I was writing, so lost in a world I was creating, I didn’t even notice I had stayed up all night.

We might not like our Dutch Uncles, but we know we need them. Why? Because when someone tells you you’re doing great and treats you like you’re some gift to mankind, you never become inclined to make any changes. But when someone tells you your argument is circular or your story is “pathetically cliché,” you wake up to your own humanity.

I miss college for a number of reasons, but one in particular is that when you had an idea or something you wanted to argue, you were expected to handle and rebuttal the criticism. In my Dead Sea Scrolls class, Dr. Falk had told us a story of a famous scholar he had the privilege of meeting. This guy was at the top of the field and then one day, he found out he had terminal cancer. It was right before he was supposed to give a presentation at some huge conference.

As these conferences go, Dr. Falk informed us, each speaker would present their argument as clearly and as concisely as possible and then open the floor for critiques and discussion. Everyone in the room knew this man had received a grim diagnosis. I for one would have expected his peers to take it easy and praise him for whatever work he had done. But even though he had months to live, his peers gave him what they knew he deserved: Their full criticism. Every single hole in this man’s argument was ripped open until tears began to fall from his eyes. When asked why, he said they gave him their full respect when they were expected not to.

My point is this: People who tell us the truth are far more valuable than those who like to agree with every thing we ever say, write, or do. They move us forward because they reveal to us the areas in our life that need improvement. Sure, someone could commend us for 9 things and then criticize us for 1, but quite honestly, I would pay more attention to the person who shows I’m wrong for 9 different things. And why is that? Because a Dutch Uncle looks beyond someone’s pride and right into what they’ve done – what they’ve produced.

My writing was changed forever with those two terrible grades I received in college. In those situations, someone had sat me down and told me that what I created was not much better than garbage. Believe me, it stung – especially the creative writing professor. I left that conversation wondering if I should have even continued on with college. But I came out of that class not only with a decent grade, but with a greater focus, a greater attention to the details within my stories, and a greater desire to write a better story than the one I had written the day before.

When it comes to our spiritual lives, we need that somebody who calls us a hypocrite when we’re being hypocritical; arrogant when we’re being arrogant; and reckless when we’re being reckless. In the ten years I’ve lived this Christian life – or at least tried to – I can think of countless people who have praised me for one thing or another. And oftentimes, I needed the encouragement. I didn’t have much of that growing up. But I think I grew the most with Christ when a few people told me I wasn’t living like Him. Sadly enough, most of those people were non-Christians.

Calling someone out for their flaws or failures takes some guts. And ideally, it’s best if a constructive – not a “kiss ass” or a destructive – tone is used. But even if someone’s condescending in their criticism of you, you still learn from it. When an old manager of mine, in a condescending tone, told me I was the slowest pizza cook he had ever seen, I made sure I picked up the pace the next time I was in the kitchen. I eventually left because I could not put up with the manager for the long haul. But I’ve never been lackadaisical on the job again.

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently,” – Galatians 6:1

I think we Christians oftentimes focus too much on “gently” that we don’t end up restoring each other. Paul didn’t want sin to be minimized; it’s pretty clear throughout each of his letters he absolutely despised sin. This is exactly why he didn’t coddle anyone. So when it comes to a popular YouTube video that has misleading sentiments or a famous pastor has an abusive personality, do not be afraid to be a Dutch Uncle. And if you need some practice, the person in the mirror is a good place to start.

God bless.

P.S. Just to be clear, Dr. Falk wasn’t the one with a terminal illness; it was someone he knew. Don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. Dr. Falk is doing very well living in the UK right now.


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Cherokee / Whovian / Sherlockian / Aspiring Auror / Lover of Jesus, Scripture, and creativity / MATS Student at George Fox Seminary.

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