We are making our way through covid craziness with help from ancient wisdom preserved in the Book of Proverbs. But Proverbs can sometimes leave us a bit confused. Consider these two lines that are set one next to the other in the text:
Do not answer fools according to their folly Or you will be a fool yourself
Answer fools according to their folly Or they will be wise in their own eyes
The sentences seem contradictory. What do the wisdom teachers who collected and arranged these proverbs want us to do?
The answer lies in understanding that these two sentences are displayed together because they constitute one single proverb and that proverb isn’t about you, the reader. In my color code system they are shaded orange. They describe the fool.
There are people no one can deal with without getting sucked into the negativity that shrouds their life. No matter what you say or do it’s going to be wrong. It’s not just that they will disagree with you. Even if they act on your best advice, they’ll find a way to screw it up.
Jesus gave his disciples some startling advice. He said, “Don’t throw your pearls before swine”. (Yes, Jesus was the guy who coined that line!) Even Jesus couldn’t productively relate to some people and he didn’t expect his followers to fare any better.
So what is the wise person supposed to do? A mentor shared an insight with me. He said, “You can’t soar with the eagles while hanging out with turkeys.” The Book of Proverbs offered the same advice in a saying I code blue (the color that identifies what the wise do):
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise but the companion of fools suffers harm
You just have to give some folks a wide berth.