He who winks at a fault causes trouble,
but he who frankly reproves promotes peace.
Solomon’s proverbs are not intended to be the subject of long contemplation. Rather, they are short instructions designed so that they will spring to mind when the situation arises. A friend recently described his mother’s advice before he went to college: describing how he would be taunted for not going along with the common behaviors, what the others would say and how he could respond. And she was right: he was teased and taunted – and he knew how to respond. Perhaps his mother was steeped in this Solomonic wisdom.
Do I say anything? It’s happened to everyone: In the midst of our everyday life, we see someone do something very unkind. Or steal something. Or cut a corner in a work project. Someone does something wrong. In that moment we have a choice to make: to speak up or to remain quiet. Many of us put off the decision, wanting to ponder it – but realize that it’s impossible to come back later, long after the deed and its evidence have disappeared, to say something.
Solomon tells us that winking at the misdeed just causes trouble later. He does not say why, but we can supply the list:
- the misdeed is repeated and even becomes a habit
- our observation comes to light and we are tied into the deed
- the ethics of the one who did the misdeed are undermined regarding other acts
- our own ethical stance is undermined and we might fall into misdeeds
- the general sense and importance of right and wrong is undermined
and so it goes.
The proverb not only encourages us to speak but to do so frankly – not shading the reproof, but not lingering over it either. “That belongs to Joe,” perhaps, or “You skipped a step.” The frank reproof is one that simply names the deed. It does not condemn the person, nor even to persuade them of the standard involved. It simply states the facts.
She doesn’t know what she’s talking about! A few lines later, Solomon prepares us for the times when we will receive this kind of frank reproof: we should listen to it. The natural response is to argue with the reprover – they don’t know the whole story, they misunderstood the actions, they aren’t very good themselves, and so on. Solomon suggests that, even so, we will benefit from listening and considering what was said.
A path to life is his who heeds admonition,
but he who disregards reproof goes astray.