Dealing with a fool?
To respond or not respond?
Say what or say not?
You have to play it smart when dealing with a fool.
Recognizing the level of gravity associated with the circumstance is the key to a wise response or none at all.
As my mom always said, “In the word ignorance is the word ignore. Ignore ignorance.”
The fool just doesn’t know what he doesn’t know or cares little about knowing the difference. He is wise in his own eyes and cares little about what is right or wrong so long as he gets what he wants. In the end, he is the ultimate contributor to his demise.
It is often difficult to know whether to engage with a fool or simply shake your head and walk away. Proverbs 26:4-5 can leave you scratching your head unless you learn to weigh the way to deal with the fool.
“Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are. Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation.”
Proverbs 26:4-5 NLT
Another translation gets us a little closer to understanding the best approach.
“Don’t respond to the words of a fool with more foolish words, or you will become as foolish as he is! Instead, if you’re asked a silly question, answer it with words of wisdom so the fool doesn’t think he’s so clever.”
Proverbs 26:4-5 TPT
The website, Got Answers, does a great job of breaking down how to navigate dealing with a fool. Here is their advice:
Proverbs has much to say about fools. They despise wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, 22, 10:21, 23:9); they are right in their own eyes (Proverbs 12:15); they are deceitful (Proverbs 14:8) and scornful (Proverbs 10:23, 14:9). The wise are also given instruction on how to deal with fools in Proverbs. Instructing a fool is pointless because his speech is full of foolishness (Proverbs 15:2, 14) and he does not want wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 18:2).
The futility of trying to impart wisdom to a fool is the basis of Proverbs 26:4-5, which tell us how to answer a fool. These seemingly contradictory verses are actually a common form of parallelism found in the Old Testament, where one idea builds upon another. Verse 4 warns against arguing with a fool on his own terms, lest we stoop to his level and become as foolish as he is. Because he despises wisdom and correction, the fool will not listen to wise reason and will try to draw us into his type of argument, whether it is by using deceit, scoffing at our wisdom, or becoming angry and abusive. If we allow him to draw us into this type of discourse, we are answering him “according to his folly” in the sense of becoming like him.
The phrase “according to his folly” in verse 5, on the other hand, tells us that there are times when a fool has to be addressed so that his foolishness will not go unchallenged. In this sense answering him according to his folly means to expose the foolishness of his words, rebuking him on the basis of his folly so he will see the idiocy of his words and reasoning. Our “answer” in this case is to be one of reproof, showing him the truth so he might see the foolishness of his words in the light of reason. Even though he will most likely despise and reject the wisdom offered to him, we are to make the attempt, both for the sake of the truth which is always to be declared, and for the sake of those listening, that they may see the difference between wisdom and folly and be instructed.
Whether we use the principle of verse 4 and deal with a fool by ignoring him, or obey verse 5 and reprove a fool depends on the situation. In matters of insignificance, it’s probably better to disregard him. In more important areas, such as when a fool denies the existence of God (Psalm 14:1), verse 5 tells us to respond to his foolishness with words of rebuke and instruction. To let a fool speak his nonsense without reproof encourages him to remain wise in his own eyes and possibly gives credibility to his folly in the eyes of others.
In short, in negligible issues we should just ignore fools, but in issues that matter, they must be dealt with so that credence will not be given to what they say.
For more about recognizing a fool read
Proverbs 26:1-11. These passages have much to say about the plight of a fool.