Attitudes in Conflict, Part 2

Attitudes In Conflict, Part 2

“A soft answer turns away wrath,

but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

(Prov. 15:1)

Warren E. Berkley

One of my earliest memories of an oft quoted tidbit of wisdom was, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” Parents and teachers used the little rhyme to soothe and calm us when we were the objects of verbal bullying. 

Long after my childhood I encountered a retort: “The blow of a whip raises a welt, but a blow of the tongue crushes the bones,” (Sirach 28:17, RSV).

Which is it? Let’s take Prov. 15:1 as authentic: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Words can kill relationships (Jas. 3:1-12), discourage children (Col. 3:21), lead people into sin (Matt. 7:15), destroy neighbors (Prov. 11:9), spread conflict (Prov. 16:28), and utter blasphemy against God (Jas. 2:7).

So let’s recognize the value of “soft answers.” This isn’t just about volume, though volume is sometimes a strained function of anger. True. Yet, the “soft answer” of Prov. 15:1 is guarded, not insulting, attentive and with righteous aim. Jesus teaches us that “… each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks,” (Lk. 6:44,45). The “soft answer” is a response well-thought out, from a good heart. The “hard answer” would be impulsive, selfish and damaging. Perhaps more damaging than sticks or stones.

“A harsh word stirs up anger.” Before we speak, write or post on social media, internal discipline must clarify exactly what our aim is. A common problem is discovered when our responses and remarks are offered quickly. Discipline takes some time; discipline is well-thought out, not impulsive. James offered this simple wisdom, sometimes a challenge: “…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger,” (Jas. 1:19).  Lots of conflict is produced by being too quick to speak. Animosity can just roll off our tongues and into the hearts of those who have done nothing to deserve such invectives. Insults are generally not planned but acts of momentary agitation, hopefully followed by almost instant regret. Political debates quickly degenerate into name-calling, slurs and hyperboles.  Religious discussions between opposing parties sometimes become shouting matches where truth is secondary.

And sometimes the harshness is convey in how we say something. The words may be correct, but our countenance and tone may not be in harmony with our words and our intent. Beware of the haughty look (Psa. 101:5).

Anger, expressed in a tumultuous outburst or a hot retort, is not good for the transmitter nor the receiver, and it will cause a bad situation to become immediately worse. How sad that we have not learned this simple lesson. A tongue, out of control, is a terrible thing.[1] – Dee Bowman

[1] Bowman, D. (1991). Front Lines: Hurt. Christianity Magazine, 8(10), 2.

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