What the British Baking Show Taught Me About Accepting Criticism

I realize I’m several years behind the craze of The Great British Bake-Off, but when lots of my friends were raving about it, I decided, without ever seeing an episode, that I would loathe it.

My reasoning? I hate reality TV. And I enjoy baking, but in a very imprecise, hey-that-looks-like-about-a-half-cup, yay-frosting, look-I-coated-myself-in-flour sort of way. The last thing I wanted to watch was a dramafest that would also give me impossibly high standards for future batches of cookies (sorry, biscuits).

The judges and hosts of the show.

Thankfully, that’s not what the show is like at all. The drama is mostly: will the rolls rise in time?!? Or what if the ice cream melts inside the baked Alaska and makes it (gasp) soggy? It’s almost entirely about talented people making beautiful, delicious food. So, five stars from me.

The contestants from 2014 (the season I just watched).

But one people-watching aspect of the show that intrigues me is seeing how the bakers take criticism from the judges. Some are so extreme on the people-pleasing scale that they go out of their way to agree with the judges…and offer additional information on why their bake is even worse than originally thought. Others make a self-deprecating joke or agree to work on that aspect in the future or just say “thank you” and retreat.

But what always gets me are the people who argue with the judges.

Granted, some things are a matter of taste, but even then, do you really want to contradict two respected culinary authorities while being filmed?

Actual comments contestants have made include:

  • “Well, I quite liked it.”
  • “I really don’t think it’s that bad.”
  • “But you’ve missed the point.”

All of which were met by a sarcastic comment from Paul and a raised eyebrow from Mary (which, in understated Mary-speak means, “I am completely appalled by your rudeness, young man/woman”). None of their excuses, shockingly, changed either the judges’ minds or the state of the baked goods in front of them.

But the defensiveness is easy to understand. These people have put their identity in what they’re doing, and to have it critiqued is hard. “I am a good baker,” they’re saying. “Everyone has told me this. To criticize my baking is to criticize me and all of my hopes and dreams.”

So they respond with excuses and miss an opportunity to grow and improve.

And I cringe because that is totally me.

The past few months I’ve had several (entirely unsolicited, probably good for me) opportunities to grow in that specific way. And yet…when someone points out an area I could work on, especially if they do so in a harsh way, I can find a thousand reasons to ignore it.

  • I was in a bad mood. That wasn’t like me at all.
  • It was just a joke—he just took it the wrong way.
  • Maybe I was in the wrong, at least a little…but so was she.

Why is that my first instinct? Because I want to declare, “I am a good person. Everyone tells me how nice I am. To point my lack of graciousness—or short-temperedness or impatience or selfishness—is to attack me and my worth.”

And that, my friends, is showstopper-level pride. When I feel the need to defend my faults and failings, it’s because I’ve made my image more important than my character. At that point, I’ve totally ignored the wise advice of 1 Corinthians 10:12, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”

You’d think Paul (the apostle, not the British baker) would end that with, “If you think you are standing firm, good for you! Work on the aspects of your character that aren’t so stable.”

But no. He’s telling us that it’s in our areas of strength that we are most vulnerable to a spectacular crash. I’ve seen it happen in my own life and in those around me. So. Many. Times.

Think you’re always really gracious? Keep a watch on your words, because something ugly is going to pop out and surprise you.

Pride yourself on your dedication to a particular cause? It can be deceptively easy to do good things for wrong reasons…or wrong things with good intentions.

Feel like you’ve got a handle on a particular struggle? Just when you’re done bragging to your small group about how much progress you’ve made, there it is, back again.

Now, this isn’t meant to make you paranoid or give you one more thing to stress out about if you’re the perfectionist, anxious type. (If that’s you…grace. Lots of it. All over the Bible, all over the heart of God. Remember it, read about it, live in it.)

But if, like me, you’re more the type to ignore issues until they are blaring in neon lights in front of your face, here’s a tip: don’t just look at your weaknesses. Examine your strengths, especially the little cracks where pride has slipped in. Never assume you’re above a fall.

And make sure you give rye dough plenty of time to rise, because its lower gluten content makes it more susceptible to being flattening out. (That was from the other Paul.)

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