Last week, we looked at how the book of Proverbs deals with our propensity to talk. I suggested taking some time to be quiet and listen to others instead of talking. Did you do it?
If not, you're not alone. It's so easy to fall into our old habits, worrying more about our own opinions and thoughts than about others'. Keep making an effort, though; this is important stuff.
If you did do it, did you notice any differences in the way people responded to you? Most people relish the chance to be heard, so when you make that space by shutting up and showing interest in others, you gain the chance to be influential in their lives. You demonstrate the love of God, who always takes time to show interest in us - even though there's absolutely nothing we have to say that God doesn't already know!
This week, let's take it one step further. What about when you're in dialogue with someone, and they say something that you really disagree with? It might be anything from a conversation with your parents to a debate on the recent election The point is, someone says something you know is wrong - maybe even a direct criticism against you. How should you respond?
Here's what Proverbs says:
Proverbs 12:15The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.
A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.
"But these aren't just my opinions!" you say. "They're the truth!" And of course that's just what the fool says as well, isn't it?
Notice - the difference between the wise and the foolish is that the fool wants to get his opinions out there, but he (or she) gains no pleasure from "understanding." Understanding what? Why, the other points of view, of course. By contrast, wise people also want to have their views heard, but not until after making sure they have fully understood the other person. The wise person listens first. And once the fool is convinced that the wise person has understood the fool's point of view, then he or she will be much more open to listening to the (now much more informed) position of the wise.
Behaving this way takes humility and discipline. It's not easy to sit there quietly listening when you're just dying to show the other person why they're wrong. It's even more difficult to spend that time focusing on understanding the other person rather than trying to think of all the arguments you want to use against them.
It's easy to think, in the midst of all this listening and patience, that you're wasting your time when you should be correcting the other person - maybe they're spouting false doctrine, and you need to stand up for what's right. But that's exactly when you must use patience as a weapon for the Truth. Proverbs says:
Proverbs 25:15Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.
Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.
A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.
Patience is powerful. In arguments and debates, we so easily fall into the trap of thinking that being louder and more forceful gives us an advantage, but how often have you ever "won over" the other side by arguing with them?
If your goal is to change someone's mind, patience and gentleness are the most effective weapons to do it. Be kind, stop talking and listen whenever the other person has something to say, and if you must, sit there for hours until they're done ranting. Once they have nothing left to say and you've heard and understood it all, you've taken all the wind out of their sails. Now they have nothing left to do but listen. "Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone." It's counterintuitive, but it's true.
Proverbs recommends the patient approach, because:
A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.
So what's so wrong with a quarrel? Isn't a good quarrel healthy now and then? Not according to the Scriptures.
He who loves a quarrel loves sin; he who builds a high gate invites destruction.
Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.
It is to a man's honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.
Are you a quarrel-loving fool? It may be time to rethink that position.
But sometimes, arguments seem impossible to avoid, especially when someone else says something harsh against you. So if somebody insults you, how can you avoid a quarrel?
Do not say, "I'll do to him as he has done to me; I'll pay that man back for what he did."
A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.
Proverbs 12:16A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.
Such a gargantuan task we have as Christians, isn't it? It rather reminds one of that "turn the other cheek" bit that a certain Jesus of Nazareth is famous for saying.
These proverbs are so simple, but if we really followed them as we should, we could increase our persuasiveness by hundreds of times. We could literally change the entire world.
I for one need to be reminded of these on a daily basis. I plan to print these out and review them regularly. Maybe next time a quarrel breaks out, I'll be reminded to respond more like a wise man... and less like the fool that I usually am.