Posts tagged fool
Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5)
Wait, what? So, am I supposed to answer a fool according to his folly or not?
Fortunately, I have read these verses and asked this question before and here is what I discovered. These two verses are actually very similar to a common literary device of the time which used contradictory statements to make a point about the difficulty of a given situation. The way the device was typically used was in conjunction with another phrase, placed in such a way as to leave out the actual point the writer was trying to make. It was an intentional way of getting the reader to read between the lines.
In this case, the ellipsis (the part left out) is in reference to verse 3:
A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey,
and a rod for the backs of fools! (Proverbs 26:3)
What we are supposed to understand here (and what the original readers would have understood) is that fools are like horses or donkeys. They seem to respond only to very close control and are impossible to reason with. Therefore, in verse 4, if you try to reason with them or answer their foolishness, you’ll just get caught up in their foolishness. You’ll talk in circles with them and accomplish nothing. However, in verse 5, if you don’t engage that person in conversation and don’t set him straight, then he’s going to think he’s beaten you and he’s going to continue to think he’s a no-it-all.
Yeah, that’s the point. If you’ve ever tried to interact with an irrational person, you have probably experienced this dilemma. To ignore the person means to be somewhat implicit in their continued arrogance and foolishness. To “set them straight” means that everyone else sees how foolish they are, but chances are you’ll accomplish nothing except getting yourself all worked up and possibly making the foolish person angry.
This is why we are advised so many other times in Proverbs to simply stay away from foolish people. Foolishness is contagious. There are better things we can do with our time than to try to argue a point with someone who is obviously never going to get it. Horses, donkeys and fools!