To Answer or Not to Answer ? It all depends, on What?

A seemingly contradiction in Proverbs 26:4-5 reveals much wisdom about what a real fool is and the need for us to answer, even our own folly, that we may not be proud in our own folly and pride.
There is a seeming contradiction in Proverbs 26:4-5 as follows:
  • Pro 26:4 Answer not,  a fool according to his folly,    lest thou also be like unto him.
  • Pro 26:5 Answer,        a fool according to his folly,    lest he be wise in his own conceit.
The first portions are exactly the opposite. 
The middle portions of the two verses are exactly the same. 
The last, third portions are about you and the fool.

So, are the verses in conflicts with each other?
The answer is no.
The first part is the action - answer or not answer.
The second part is how to answer....must address his folly.
The third part is the consequence ... either you become like him or he stays as fool yet thinking he is wise.

The choice is ours to choose.

If we choose to answer not his folly, silence implies consent, so we are perceived to agree with his folly and then we will appear to be like him.

If we choose to answer, addressing his folly, we must be smart enough to convince him of his folly, then he will realize his folly and not be a conceit.

The call seems to be for us to answer the folly, but we must do it wisely. If we answer not, the fool remains in his folly thinking he is wise. If we answer rightly, the fool can be taught to be wise and someone is helped.

The big question is then shifted to HOW we should answer.

The verse provides two clues:
  1. Address his folly. i.e. Understand the rationale of his reasoning to reach a foolish conclusion.
  2. He must be convinced of our answer: Our reasoning must be able to point out the errors, the illogical, the non-factual, non-realistic part of his reasonings, showing the folly. 
Stephen Covey's Habit 5 "Seek first to Understand and then be Understood" is then a good guide for us to answer the fool.

Albert Einstein gave us new light with his statement, “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them". A fool may not be what we usually think of them as uneducated. Actually, fools could be highly educated Ph.D.'s that are trapped in their own biased and prejudiced mindset. In the world of science, as science progresses, we can see that there are many foolish scientists all through the years. They used to think of the earth as flat, the universe as unchanging and proudly hold on and even persecuted those who actually know better. In man's early space flight, we read that the man who flew into space and said he did not see god there! (  For the corrected story, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Gagarin). 

We can see how folly works and the only hope is for us to find the right answer to answer even our own folly. We must always remain humble to learn and to reflect on our possible biases and prejudices and to hold on to the truths that we have learned. Then, we may be freed from the trap of folly.

Folly is then not lack of intelligence, but rather, a belief in something that is untrue, illogical and still holding on strongly to the lie or defective reasoning.

Lim Liat (c) 10 July 2014

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