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Soft Answers, Volume, and Motive

Am guessing that a lot of us admire the person who can use humor, thoughtfulness, or a self-deprecating comment to defuse the tension of an angry moment. Maybe that’s why I’ve become so intrigued with the proverb that says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). I’m convinced that there is more here than a reminder not to yell at one another.

The neighborhood of this proverb
The previous proverb (14:35) reminds us that anger isn’t always wrong. Solomon provided balance when he said, “The king’s favor is toward a wise servant, but his wrath is against him who causes shame.”

At its best, angry emotions show that we care enough to be upset when someone or something we value is in danger. This is like the anger of the king (14:35) who becomes emotional when one of his servants acts without regard for the needs of others.

Seems clear though that wisdom will keep this emotion on a short leash. Solomon’s “rule of the soft answer” helps us think twice about emotions that can be as dangerous as “explosive fumes”.

The danger behind the anger
Anger is like a guard dog. It can help us protect ourselves, our property, and those who need our help. But a quick temper is like a junkyard dog. Regardless of whether we call him “Nero,” “Porkchop,” or “Sunrise,” he will act on his own instincts. Without training, fencing, or a short leash, he will bite a friend as quickly as he will attack a thief.

The motive behind this proverb
So what is Proverb 15:1 saying to us? Is it just encouraging us to lower our voices to avoid waking the sleeping dog? My guess is volume, while a factor, is less of an issue than motive. Seems to me that the controlling principle of the best soft answer is that it is motivated not just by wisdom– but by love.

A voice raised in love is less threatening than a thought whispered in contempt. A loud “Yes, I’m upset. I care about you!” is more calming than a softly spoken “You’re nothing but a worthless version of your father (or mother).”

“What I do with my time is none of your business” is a harsh answer even when it’s said softly through smiling lips. On the other hand, “What can I say? What I said was thoughtless and mean. You didn’t need to hear that from me!” is likely to be “soft” even if expressed with loud regret.

Proverbs 15:1 isn’t just about volume control. It’s warning us about harsh responses that, even when whispered, awaken anger because they’re spoken as a threat. “Soft” words tend to defuse anger, regardless of their volume, because they’re an offer of safety.

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13 Responses to “Soft Answers, Volume, and Motive”

  1. Gale L. Jarvis says:

    Good Morning everyone, Mart, i believe it is only by God’s Grace that we are not all Junkyard Dogs.
    Without God a person lives their lives on survival any way they can, and would destroy anyone that tries to get in their way.
    The news is full of how those without God react if someone tries to take their girl friend,they will kill anyone that is near her, or if their spouse is not what they desire for them to be, get rid of them by divorce, or death, which ever is easier.
    It is just about as bad in many churchs, the light of Christ is getting dimmer and dimmer in many churchs, because of members destroying one another with hate.
    God says they will know us by our love, but it seems so many have that chip on their shoulder in this day we are living, even church goers, it is getting hard for the world to see love any where.

  2. Sasha45 says:

    Much time in the Word changes not only our words and actions but our countenance as well. As the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit works in us, those we come in contact with are touched by Him, not just us. Numbers 6:24-26, “The Lord bless you , and keep you, the Lord make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you: The Lord lift up His countenance on you and give you peace.” NAS

  3. drkennyg says:

    A humorous and thoughtful comment is sometimes difficult to quickly come up with so silence is golden if all you can think of are words that are cutting or rude. I’m glad for my little church because there is very little criticism and unrest within the congregation. We tend to be more likely to help one another as well as our neighbors with prayer and action. For example, I haven’t heard from my adult daughter in quite a while but she called recently and invited me to a visit after the fires die down upstate (CA). I mentioned this to a person in the church who doesn’t really know me well (except that I miss my daughter) and she was thrilled and asked if she could help in any way. Why I’ll tell ya it nearly bowled me over that she cared as much for me as I do for her (she has had a recent very mild stroke that seems to have passed without a trace).

    However, the dark side of most people in America today is as Gale noted above. We are too too much into self and are more likely to hide behind gated communities or on the other hand crash through those gates and rape/pillage the insiders. The gap has gotten so wide and Satan has sunk so deep into most folks that we hate each other on both sides of that issue. The church in the USA is in a heap of trouble.

  4. daisymarygoldr says:

    God has instilled a sense of healthy humor in all of us and a good laugh actually lowers cortisol levels and stimulates the immune system (Pro 17:22). However, one should exercise caution to appropriate humor at the right place (no-no at church) and with the right people (an absolute no-no with Christians)…just recently learned this the hard way.

    Being the junkyard dog-“sunrise”, I admit to being a nuisance with my noisy barking but hey, it is less scary than being a short-leashed guard dog whose smile is but a feigned “baring of teeth” and his vicious bite is worse than his well trained bark! Sometimes, trusting fellow believers can cause us to let our guard down and makes us vulnerable to the most painful bite ever.

    Pro 15:1 is a valuable lesson well learned in experiencing the hurting taste with every lick of the wound while being convicted of my own unchristian harsh responses with max volume.

  5. poohpity says:

    Amen Gale. I worked in a teen shelter and witnessed first hand the difference between using an angry word to defuse violence and a soft voice to calm the situation. These youth were so used to being controlled with anger and wrath it was no different than being at home. So when someone spoke gently to them and treated them like they were worth being loved there was change. When you look at it I would rather be spoken to with respect and love.

    Jesus told us the way to BE with the ATTITUDE of love yet when confronting violations to God’s house used harshness and anger. We as human beings have all those feelings and emotions it is just how we use them that matters and the motive behind it. I wonder what would happen if we carefully and prayerfully thought about everything that comes out of our mouths as we care about what goes into them. LOL

  6. Francisco Trevino says:

    Hi Mart, who hasen’t said something harsh that the second you say it, you know the damage is done. For those of us who do not articulate soft responses well, I agree with Drkennyg to keep silent until the Holy Spirit takes over our initial impulse and think of a soft response.
    Working in a production area one can snap very easily and do irrevesible damage when barking back at people, so silence until the soft response kicks in works for me most of the time.

  7. poohpity says:

    A lady I met while delivering meals to the homebound wrote this poem, her name is Mrs. Elizabeth Byland;

    Watch out for Crabs!

    Not all crabs live in the sea…..
    Sometimes they lurk in you and me!

    “Crabby-natured” people
    Live in side a rough hard “shell”,
    And they might reach out and “pinch you”
    Just when things are going well!

    But the “crab” needs to be understood
    By all of those around,
    For in each creature God has made,
    some good is surely found!

    Reject the impulse to “pinch” back.
    Let your patience keep you strong.
    Give a calm and quiet answer,
    And soon peace will come along!!

    “Be at peace among yourselves.
    ….”Be patient toward all men.”
    1 Thessalonians 5:13,14

  8. poohpity says:

    whoops she also quoted Genesis 1:31 “And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.”

  9. Gena says:

    I have a little bit of a different situation to deal with, because of my deafness. Sometimes I pick up on another person’s voice if they are being snide or rude, but there have been times when I cannot tell. A lot of people are great actors – they can look seemingly just fine and pleasant when all the while they are being rude. For myself, I’ve been guilty of rudeness and other times I use the southern dialet to express myself or to deprecate myself with humor. And yes – a soft answer will do a lot to defuse a negative situation. Some day I will hear the voice of Jesus and God’s voice – that will be awesome. I imagine their voices full of strength and authority, yet gentle when the occasion calls for it.

  10. Becky M says:

    Mart,I love the pics of the dogs (-: The 1st one looks like he is just waiting to catch a treat. Even the shepard doesn’t look mean just protective. I need to learn to stop and think before I say anything. I never really knew how to talk in public, person to person or person(me) to persons listening. I have social phobia and instead of shying away I tend to chatter without thinking. Nervous chatter I guess. I contiually ask God to put the words in my mouth and help me to keep silent and talk softly so as not to scare who I’m talking to. LOL,(nervous laugh). I do think that God has helped me considerably the past three or so years. But, I also know God does not need to stop anytime soon. Most likely to help with this for all my life. I definitely can see a difference from the way I used to be. But, God has helped me with my confidence and I have it in the back of my head that I don’t want my confidence to defeat me when it comes to how I talk with people. You probably can read it in my posts\post. Ekkkkkk!
    But,I don’t want to lose potential brothers & sisters and I don’t want to make enemy’s of the brothers & sisters I’m around now. Just in case I’ve bothered anyone here in this blog, I apologize, please forgive me.

  11. desert rose says:

    Loved everyone’s comments and I especially liked the crab poem. Proverbs 15:1 is also one of my favorites, I paraphrase it for the children.
    A Happy Heart puts a smile on your face.

  12. busola says:

    most of the time we know this things,but we also need constant reminders and a self -will not to do them.the truth is both the offender and the offended don’t feel happy with themselves after throwing missiles of hateful words. every day let’s keep on trying our best to be an example and not a warning

  13. poohpity says:

    It is surprising how easily we can allow others to effect how we respond especially when we feel the need to be self protective and not God motivated.

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