If you look through some of the things that the book of Proverbs has to say about wisdom and foolishness, you begin to notice some interesting patterns.
Can you spot the common thread in these passages?
Proverbs 10:19When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.
The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.
He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.
A fool's mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul.
Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.
A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself, but the heart of fools blurts out folly.
Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.
Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
You've probably gotten the point by now. Over and over, the book of Proverbs entreats us to keep our words to a minimum. Fools, we are told, are the ones who say what's on their minds; wise people should hold their tongues, guard their lips, and keep silent.
As a guy who likes to talk a lot, I find this particularly hard to swallow! But it's actually excellent advice.
When we're talking, we can't be listening to others. When I'm talking to you, what I'm essentially saying is that I believe I have information you need or want. When I'm listening to you, what I'm saying is that I value what you have to say, and that your ideas are important to me.
Unfortunately, many people get into the habit of spending all their time talking. We do listen, but mostly so we can get a turn to talk again. We interrupt one another, and we talk more than we listen. When people talk more than they listen, the message they send is that they think they have more valuable things to say than the people they're talking to have. It's really quite an arrogant thing to do, isn't it?
This is especially true in conversations about issues, although it applies to any conversation. When a debatable issue comes up, whether it's on a message board or in a face to face conversation, which is your first inclination - to share your own views on the subject, or to learn about other people's views?
Most of us, right off the bat, want to share our own views. And yet Proverbs says that a fool "delights in airing his own opinions" (18:2). A wise individual, according to the passages above, should "store up knowledge" instead.
If you're someone like me who likes to talk (and believe me, I do, though I can also be a very good listener), consider that it's actually a tendency of our sinful nature. Read again over the passages at the top of this page and think about how you might apply them yourself. This week, make an effort to keep silent and get others talking instead. Watch how it affects your daily interactions. Next week we'll revisit this issue, so try it out and see what happens!