Answer not the fool according to his folly,
lest you too become like him.
Answer the fool according to his folly,
lest he become wise in his own eyes.
It’s no accident that these two contradictory proverbs are placed one beside the other. Each, taken by itself, offers a piece of commonsense wisdom. When placed together, the reader – in earlier days, the listener – does a double take. Wait! Didn’t they just tell me the opposite of this?
The men who organized these sayings are certainly playing with our heads, bringing us up short, forcing us to think. In so doing, they convey two pieces of wisdom that are, in fact, more important than the vague advice about how to reply to fools.
- No proverb is right for every situation. The proverb is only as wise as the human being who recognizes when it should be followed.
- If we are going to be ready to call someone a fool, we should be ready to take ourselves lightly as well.
He who digs a pit falls into it;
and a stone comes back upon him who rolls it.