“The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent (wise) ignores an insult.” Proverbs 12:16
I both love and hate verses like this. I love them because they are such a clear indication of how impactful God’s Word can be in my life, but I hate them because often these impacts are ridiculously painful. I wish I could say I was often the wise man from this verse.
A foolish man can lose his cool pretty easily. He has a tendency to rise to the bait of an insult. He doesn’t know how to keep his mouth shut. He doesn’t realize that responding angrily to the insult often produces the desired result of the person giving it. He thinks he has something to prove. Maybe he feels a desire to defend his honor. Maybe he wants to try and prove how inaccurate the insult is.
The prudent man sees things differently though. He ignores the insult. I find this fascinating though, because isn’t this so counter culture? We live in a world where a man who chooses not to strike back is seen as a coward. A truly wise man often appears to be one with little wit, guts, or passion. We want to stand up against an insult because we feel we have a point to make. We need to prove how right we are. Proverbs tells us this path will lead to foolishness though. Why? I would like to share what I believe are some of the reasons.
1. Knee jerk reactions needlessly escalate the conflict. All it becomes is a competition. Respond brutally, and you will likely receive retaliation. It just becomes a vicious cycle leading down the inevitable road of appearing to be the dog who returns to his own vomit.
2. Scripture tells us to be slow to anger. A quick temper is never works well with other characteristics. A quick temper inevitably takes over any of your better qualities. These are the kinds of people you never want to be around. You always need to be careful what you say around them because you never know when you might damage their insecure ego.
3. Volatile denial is often used to hide insecurities. If you are responding like a boisterous buffoon then it is likely because the insult struck a very strong chord with you. A wise man would use the temptation for personal reflection on why you feel so insecure in this situation.
4. God is the one who is supposed to defend our integrity. I’ve had some pretty nasty accusations said about me before. I’ve been called all kinds of names. Liberal, legalistic (Yes I have literally been called both. That is what happens when you are in neither camp.), traitor, heathen, pagan, and all other kinds of lovely things. Honestly, if I tried to respond and defend myself for every insult then I would have little tie to do anything else. Let God be the defender of your character. All you need to worry about is having a character worth defending.
5. People don’t define your value. I think the old “sticks and stones” saying is a giant lie, but there is something to be said for not letting other people’s words have power over you. My creator is the one who defines my value. Why should I waste breath on the insults of an insecure individual who feels threatened enough to insult me for one reason or another?
This is far from exhaustive. It is something I am personally working on so more thoughts will likely develop as time goes on. Who knows, I may even start a series on the fool and the wise man. In the end, I wish to part with this simple thought. Showing anger and a quick tempered response to an insult is putting control in the hands of the fool who gives it. It reminds me of a great line from A New Hope. “Who’s more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?” Play into the hands of an insulting fool, and you become the bigger one of the two.