It’s very easy to see what others could do better, the flaws and joins in others’ handiwork. It’s really very easy; which is why we find it such a good way to pass the time. What else offers a feeling of superiority and the illusion of involvement whilst costing absolutely no effort or commitment?

Football crowds are a good example: thousands of pie-eating men, sat on their butts, shouting instructions at the players madly chasing around the field.  Football and community development have this in common. Many claim to know what’s needed. Few get on the field, roll up their sleeves, and give it some energy.

‘Here’s what you should do…’

‘I wouldn’t do it that way…’

‘That will never work…’

If you’re on the sharp end of this kind of negativity I found value in this advice: Firstly, learn to differentiate opinions from convictions. There are a lot of people with a lot of opinions. They cost nothing. Remember this when you get inundated with advice on how you should do what you are doing, or why you should give up because it will never work. Like junk mail, it’s often best put straight in the bin. Convictions are different. If a person is willing to back up an opinion with a commitment:  to get involved; to come and see; or even to spend time listening to you without interrupting – they are likely to be offering a conviction. And that’s worth a million cheap opinions.

There’s a second lesson. Little change happens if we play it safe all the time. Transformation takes risks; spiritually put, it takes wide-eyed faith and blind hope. Encouragement may be hard to find but here’s a word of comfort. When you meet cynical, pessimistic and negative people, just remember – however hard it is to listen to them, it’s much worse to be them. Fostering a negative attitude is much like peeing in your own bath. The person most affected is you. If you’re cynical, cutting and dismissive, you have to live in that environment 24/7. It’s perhaps what Jesus meant, ‘With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’ (Matt 7:1-3).

If you’re attempting something transformative in your life, or those of others, sift out mere opinions, value people of conviction only wash in good clean bathwater.