Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.
Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation. (NLT)
Back in 1978 when I was second mate on a 100,000 ton bulk carrier we had a first-trip engineering cadet who quickly gained the nickname ‘village idiot’. The problem was that while everyone on the ship recognized that this lad wasn’t blessed with significant brainpower, he thought he that was. The other problem is that idiots are not easily tolerated on ships.
To be fair, most first trippers begin their careers as idiots. I did. There is so much to learn. The key is being willing to learn. A superiority complex never goes down well on a ship, but a first trip cadet with a superiority complex is quite intolerable. Inevitably life becomes intolerable for the intolerable one as he or she is brought down to size. It would be foolish to allow a foolish seafarer to become wise in his own eyes, but also potentially dangerous given the working environment on board ship.
Solomon was spot on with his advice. It is important to let a fool know that he is a fool. Fail to do so and the fool will believe that he knows better than everyone else. Lack of experience combined with lack of wisdom might then have disastrous effects.
Challenging as it may seem this proverb speaks to everyone. It is important to know and understand our limitations and focus our energies on what we do best. This is particularly important in church where sometimes we place or find the wrong people in ministries where they simply do not belong. The out-of-tune choir member might make an excellent Sunday School teacher, but someone needs to identify this and gently guide the croaky crooner to the place where God can really use him. And that does call for wisdom.
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