Choosing to Avoid Strife

Yael Eckstein  |  January 7, 2022

Yael Eckstein embracing an elderly Jewish woman in her home.

It is to one’s honor to avoid strife,
    but every fool is quick to quarrel.
– Proverbs 20:3

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.

When my husband and I first moved to Israel, we were the newbies in a small town where most people had been living there for 50 years or more. When the movers started unloading our furniture, I heard yelling from the street. I ran outside and saw a neighbor yelling at the movers and as soon as she saw me, she started yelling at me, too. Not exactly the warm welcome I was hoping for!

My first instinct was to yell back, but then I thought about what Proverbs 20 teaches about avoiding strife. I placed my hand gently on my neighbor’s shoulder and said, “I would never do anything to hurt you. I know you are upset, but I didn’t do anything on purpose, and I want to fix it. Just tell me what’s bothering you.”

Choosing to Avoid Strife

Her anger melted. She said, “I know I have a problem with getting upset easily, but the truck is in my way I can’t see.” We gladly moved the truck to a better place and the issue was solved. I later learned that I wasn’t the first person – or the last – to be yelled at by this neighbor. But since that time, I’ve never had another run-in with her. Now, we have an amazing relationship.

The initial instinct that I felt to yell back at my neighbor comes from an instinctive place. When we are attacked, we immediately go into defensive mode. But had I done this, I would have allowed the strife with this neighbor to escalate. The long-term effect on our relationship as neighbors would have been disastrous. Imagine the constant discomfort we both would have felt every time we would see each other on the block.

As the writer in Proverbs noted, “every fool is quick to argue.” While I would have felt justified for yelling at her after her over-the-top attack, it would have been foolish of me. By choosing to avoid strife, I opened the door to a warm relationship of mutual respect with my neighbor that continues to this day.

Your Turn:

Think about a time that you felt defensive and justified in anger.  How did you handle that situation? What could you have done differently that would have led to a better outcome?