A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
I knew a lot about their family history, and I expected that the girls and their mother would have a pretty tight bond. They had been through a lot, and life was never easy, so it made sense to me that they would serve as each other’s support. I realized I was wrong the first time I visited them. It seemed like not one could get along with either of the others. I cannot say that any one of them was mean, per se, but there was a lot of anger in that house. The more time I spent with this family, the more I realized what was going on. Each one of them had learned how to push the others’ buttons. One would say that she did not understand why another was angry at her when she knew that the comment which would seem innocuous to a casual observer would make her mom, sister or daughter fly off the handle.
Today’s verse teaches us something specific as well as something general about communication. The specific lesson tells us that gentle words and a soft demeanor will calm or diffuse anger in another. Conversely, harsh speech will return to us wrath. The more general lesson is that our behavior toward other people can play a large role in their anger. I know someone whose uncle or grandfather would say that no one makes him angry, it is he who allows others to bring him to that point. The sentiment is not incorrect, but we must look at accountability from both sides. Just as we are to keep a check on our own anger, we also are to make sure that we are not provoking anger in others. The gentleness and softness recommended here go beyond words. We are talking about the way we care for people so that we can help keep them from anger.
I recently have been faced with the same question in different contexts, which is to state my motivation for doing one thing or another. In our dealings with other people, we can analyze our motivation for every communication and every act. If the goal is to build others and love them, then we never should be motivated by getting a rise out of them. Yes, there will be times when doing the righteous, godly thing will stir up anger in the world around us, but that is a much different thing. Yet even in the face of that worldly wrath, we are not to provoke. We are to speak and act with gentleness and a righteous motivation. Father, make us conscious of the motivation behind our actions and words that we would deal with others gently and in love.