Proverbs 17:28 Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.
My Grandmother used to say, “It is better to stay silent and thought stupid then to open your mouth and erase all doubt.” That phrase has stuck with me for years. There are times I am successful at the practice of this thought. Sometimes I am not. When I read this proverb, her words came back to me like the wind.
How many times in my life could I have just stayed silent and stayed out of trouble or turmoil? Notice how the verse says, “Even fools…”? Many times I would be in the right with my response to someone; yet made matters worse by speaking. My words would dig a deep hole that I may never get out of. If I would have just kept my mouth shut and waited, or even never voiced what I was thinking at all, things would have been fine.
First, I feel like I have to be right. There are times where a person is informing me about something I have done or someone close to me has done. I become defensive and start to speak in order to put myself into a better light. This does not help the conversation at all. One, I am not allowing another to have an opinion or feel his/her emotion. Second, I have made this conversation about me when most of the time it is about the other person’s expression. This deep need to be right gets in the way and my impatience gets the best of me and I speak.
Second, I feel like I have to fit in. Many times I will interject myself into a conversation before my time. I just feel like I need to belong and use other’s time to push my way in. I especially do this by explaining a similar experience of my own in comparison to the person speaking and his/her experience. In essence, I take away from his/her time and sharing. I do all of this just to connect and belong.
Third, I feel like I have to give advice. I am a helper by nature. However, I can take that gift to the extreme and at times become a “fixer”. Most people do not want to be fixed and in some way resent my efforts to do so. And, ultimately, I am not really fixing them. I am just fixing my discomfort with his/her situation. I need to keep my advice to myself until I am asked. At the least, I need to ask permission before speaking further.
So, what do we learn from this Proverb and James 3? First and foremost, silence can be a virtue. Just listening can be all that is needed in many situations. Lately, I have been working harder at just listening and connecting with the person speaking. Part of the challenge has been to listen without formulating my answer. When I have practiced this, I have found that the conversation goes better and the person I am with leaves feeling like a person…not an object.
Secondly, my wisdom does not have to be shared. Until I am asked what I think, I need to keep my judgments and comments to myself. There may come a time where someone wants to know what I think. When that happens, then my words should fit the situation. A practice to go hand in hand with this is to let the person I’m speaking with know that these are my words, and that he/she may not feel the same way. This leaves it open for my opinion to fall back on me. With this I am also acknowledging them as a person.
Thirdly, to stay silent when needed is to practice discernment. Notice how it says, “[the fool is thought] discerning if they hold their tongues.”? This tells me that there is discernment about when to speak and when not for the wise in conversations. The better part of wisdom is to know when and where to speak.
As I take inventory of my conversations, I must watch my tongue. I need to pay attention to when to speak and when not.
1. What does this passage say to you?
2. Which one or more of the reasons do you feel you need to speak when it is not warranted?
3. How do you feel when you realize you have spoken where it was not wise to speak?
4. Give an example someone you know does this.
5. How does it make you feel?
6. Where do you do the same thing when conversing with others?
7. Pay attention this week to your conversations. Notice when you have the urge to speak. Challenge yourself to stay silent and reflect on how that goes for you.
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