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Reflection: Fools Rush In

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Reflection: Fools Rush In

4 Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools,
or you will become as foolish as they are.

5 Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools,
or they will become wise in their own estimation.

Proverbs 26:4-5 (NLT)

The tension between these two verses is a book.

I could call it “The Debater’s Paradox.”

Or “Why I Periodically Leave Social Media.”

The Book of Proverbs talks at length about fools. They refuse to heed wisdom. They don’t learn from their mistakes. Another designation for them, “mockers”, captures the spectacle that not only will they ignore truth they will ridicule you for offering it. The mocker is often malignantly fatuous: smugly mistaken and determined to punish you for daring to challenge them, no matter how wrong they may be. So not only will their poor choices harm them. They will ensure they harm you as well.

The mocker has thrived in the digital age. They are disrupters and bullies. They are skeptics and trolls.

Closer to home, they may be people who demand a respect they don’t reciprocate. They may be hurling their opinions constantly from bunkers of entitlement but have a ballistic response to even the suggestion that you are criticizing them.

Some people have something to say about everything, including the mistake of challenging them.

Others are landmines you only discover by stepping on them.

And this passage from Proverbs offers a choice we can read in a few different ways.

On the one hand, different moments call for different responses:

Some nonsense you can let slide. Some needs to be addressed.

Sometimes silence is golden. Sometimes it’s negligent.

Sometimes self-censorship is mature. Sometimes it’s cowardly.

The wisdom comes in knowing, in the words of Flava Flav, what time it is.

The passage also permits us to differentiate meanings of “answering foolish arguments.”

On the one hand, if we answer a fool at the level of their argument, essentially choosing to play their game, we will likely lose. They are masters of their game. It is what they do. Unless we formerly played the same game, we are out of our element. And if we did used to play that game, we may be wise not to go back.

If, on the other hand, we answer a fool in a way that elevates the conversation, we may win a battle, and win the hearts and minds of our listeners, by illustrating that this is not a drunken brawl, and there is a higher plane of thought that can free us all from a degrading exchange.

At this point, we need, also, to search our own hearts. Am I preparing a rebuttal out of righteous anger, or spiteful pride?

And if it is righteous anger, I probably need to go a step further. Because all my anger seems righteous to me, at least at first. It burns in my mind. It churns in my gut. I have a bunch of brilliant thoughts, and I agree with all of them. I have a series of vicious comebacks, based on how well I believe I understand the other person’s weaknesses. Sometimes I think I know what will silence them. Sometimes I think I know what will hurt them.

But does anything good come of releasing that stuff?

Venting your spleen can feel good for a second and spawn consequences for a lifetime. Is that your best option?

Maybe it is. And maybe you have a better choice.

Ephesians 4:26, in the King James version, says “be angry and sin not.” In the NLT it says “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” The problem is not the anger. It’s what we choose to do when we’re angry. It’s how much we surrender to anger in doing it. If anger is driving me to solve a problem, that’s good. It it’s driving me off a cliff, that’s bad.

The question is who is driving, and where?

You wouldn’t get in a car with someone who was blindfolded and drunk.

But when we’re angry, we often hop right in.

For me, the response to foolishness is a question of choosing my battles.

I will not lose my mind trying to change yours.

I’m not going to yell myself hoarse demanding empathy from someone who has none.

I’m not going to waste time trying to dunk on a person who will deny that we were even playing a game.

I value my peace more than your punishment, especially if that punishment accomplishes nothing.

Today, I am correcting fools where silence harms me or someone else.

And I pity the fool who brings their nonsense to Mr. T or his equivalent.

But I can’t worry about harming fools.

Usually, they do a good enough job of that on their own.

(Photo Credit: Andrea Piacquadio)

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