Assess Foolish Behavior

Yael Eckstein  |  July 8, 2022

Boy sitting on the ground with his head in his lap.

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
    or you yourself will be just like him
. — Proverbs 26:4

We continue with devotional thoughts from the Book of Proverbs every Friday. One of the 11 books in the Torah known as the Ketuvim, Hebrew for “writings,” Proverbs is part of the “wisdom tradition,” which also includes Job and Ecclesiastes.

You know the expression, “It takes two to tango”? The other day, I saw this old adage come to life. I was in the supermarket and a woman walked in who I’d seen shopping there before. She’s one of these people who always makes sure that everyone knows she’s there. Sure enough, she started complaining. This time it was about the quality of the produce. “Why are there no yellow peppers?” “This lettuce looks soggy.” She was off and running.

As she was going on about this or that item that wasn’t to her liking, one of the other customers decided to say something to her. “If you don’t like the produce here, you’re welcome to shop somewhere else.” Well, let’s just say that this wasn’t the end of the conversation, if you can call it that. In a heartbeat, the two of them were in an all-out screaming match, berating each other and calling each other every name in the book.

Assess Foolish Behavior

As I walked away, I thought about this verse in Proverbs: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.”

Now, this may seem like obvious and simple advice, but it’s an important reminder. Take the supermarket scene I just described, for example. The customer who called out the loudmouth complainer meant well. She certainly thought she was doing everyone a favor by calling out the obnoxious behavior. Of course, everyone present wanted the loudmouth to stop her act. 

But in the end, the woman ended up looking just as much the fool as the woman who started it all. All she accomplished was an escalation of the situation. As a result, instead of one loudmouth, we now had two customers screaming at each other.

We can’t allow our sense of justice to get in the way of prudence. We need to assess foolish behavior and whether it’s worth getting involved or not. We must not allow ourselves to get dragged down to the level of those whose behavior we won’t change anyway.

Your Turn:

Practice patience. Next time you are confronted with obnoxious behavior, hold back. Consider where the situation is going and whether your interaction with that person will help or hinder what’s happening.