Read Proverbs 18
Let’s talk about human nature. Solomon did. Consider verse 13.
To answer before listening—
that is folly and shame.
Why would he include such counsel? Because it describes our nature. We often answer before we hear what a person has to say. We listen to respond. We are not really listening.
Someone hits a keyword or concept or other trigger and it’s off to the races in our response.
We know quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, but do we live it? That’s the challenge—to be doers of the word, not just people who hear it and maybe even can recite it.
It is foolish to answer before we hear what someone has to say. We can take something out of context easily if we don’t listen to the whole story. It is foolish to answer before we know what we are answering.
You may start talking about torture and I jump in with my opinions. You want to express why you are against torture for whatever reason but there I go talking techniques and most effective methods of torture, including the never-ending sermon.
Solomon also adds that it is shameful. To answer without listening is disrespectful. It says that you have nothing to say that I don’t already know. You can offer nothing to my knowledge, understanding, or wisdom. It says that you have nothing to offer other than a segue to what I have to say.
Solomon is not talking about a conversation with a fool. Avoid those. That means don’t answer at all other than to remove yourself from the conversation.
He is talking about our interaction with others who have not declared there is no God. In our conversations with those who know there is a God and are seeking him at their own pace, we should give them an ear.
We might gain understanding. We might have something of value to offer them, but only if we understand them first.
That does not mean that we engage in every conversation. Consider the reply of Jesus to the young man who wanted him to referee family matters. We find this in the Parable of Bigger Barns or The Rich Fool.
Who made me referee of this matter?
Not my circus. Not my monkey.
This is just something to distract me from my mission.
There are conversations that we won’t have because wisdom says not my circus, not my monkey.
I specifically tell people in marriage counseling that I won’t have ex parte conversations and I won’t be judge or referee. When I get a question or a situation from only one person while the other is not present, my answer is no answer. Sometimes it’s a reminder of the ground rules.
There are plenty of times that I choose not to answer. I may issue instructions, but I won’t answer the narrative offered. Somebody wants to plead their case to me and my response is this is our focus. You are not having that conversation with me. I am staying on task. Want to come along?
So, I am not saying that you must engage or avoid conversations, but if you choose to be a part to a conversation, then listen before you speak.
If you choose to be a part of a conversation, then choose to listen to understand.
Our nature is to compose our response while someone else is talking. When our response is ready, we often interrupt.
Ask yourself, do i:
Listen to respond?
Listen to understand?
The former leads to folly and shame. The latter to real conversation and exchange of thoughts and ideas and sometimes even growth.
So what is the message to those of us seeking God’s wisdom?
You must know the who, what, when, and sometimes the why to listen, but when you choose to listen, really listen. Don’t make your listening conditional on waiting for an excuse to speak.
Proverbs and James agree. Quick to listen and slow to speak are sound counsel in any age.
Consider the parallel in verse 17.
In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right,
until someone comes forward and cross-examines.
The advantage of speaking first may be short-lived, at least in an adjudicated proceeding. Elsewhere conversation may be a free-for-all, so go back to knowing the who, what, when, and sometimes the why before you engage in conversation.
But when you do engage, really listen. To answer before listening is folly and shameful.