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100 Proverbs That Teach Us How to Speak, Listen, and Respectfully Disagree

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By Darin Gerdes

On January 20, 2021, Joseph R. Biden became the 46th President of the United States. In his inauguration address, he said: “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts — if we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes.”

President Biden was right. We cannot continue to demonize those with whom we disagree and expect harmony. Whether you call your opponents fascists or communists, racists or snowflakes, the approach is the problem. An emotionally charged insult hardly invites them into a conversation that brings understanding and creates the unity we all seek.

I welcome such an invitation to unity, but I am skeptical whether we are capable of achieving it in a nation that is so divided. More to the point, it is not just words but forthcoming demonstrations of respect that will determine if we unify and heal, or if we spend the next four years stewing in anger toward each other.

Regardless of what happens in Washington, you and I can make individual decisions to live as we should and be the healing that we want to see. I am inviting you into that journey here.

Last September, I began reading the entire Book of Proverbs every day. I was soon convicted that I needed to reign in my tongue and I have not regretted a moment of the time that I didn’t waste by stepping away from unnecessary Facebook arguments.

The Book of Proverbs teaches us how we should live in relation to others. Solomon did not divide people by race or class. He discussed four primary categories of people, but these classifications were based on their inclination toward wisdom and the behaviors that they consequently displayed. They were:

  • The Wise
  • The Fool
  • The Mocker
  • The Simple

The Wise, The Fool, The Mocker, and the Simple

The wise are those who listen to God, believe in his precepts, and accept correction. Familiar passages remind us that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7), and “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). The wise can be recognized by one unusual characteristic. They reign in their tongues.

Fools, on the other hand, reject both God and correction. As a consequence, they become proud and wise in their own eyes. They also have a distinguishing characteristic—they are not the least bit interested in reigning in their tongues.

Mockers not only fail to reign in their tongues, but they cause trouble wherever they go. They are not just foolish; they are super-fools who are proud and sarcastic. They constantly stir up anger.

The simple are gullible people who believe anything. They are the targets of manipulators. They are the ones passing along questionable articles on social media. Where fools and mockers enflame with their own words, the simple enflame by spreading others’ words that validate their own assumptions.

If you think about your Facebook feed, you will recognize the fool, the mocker, and the simple, but probably not the wise. The wise person is not arguing. He is certainly not trying to score points or demonstrate how smart he is. If he engages, he does so by asking questions in order to learn.

Respectful Dialogue

Over the last few weeks, I have been wrestling with how Christians should engage in respectful dialogue with others with whom they disagree. The Proverbs are full of instruction on this matter. A few days ago, I highlighted the most pertinent passages and I whittled that list down to 100 verses (which are listed below).

Before you read that list, I would like you to consider this question. In your interactions with others—particularly as you discuss contentious issues—do you sound more like a wise person, a fool, a mocker, or a simple person? Score yourself as you read.

The Wise Person

  • Overlooks and insult (Proverbs 12:16)
  • Keeps his knowledge to themselves (Proverbs 12:23)
  • Walks with wise people (Proverbs 13:20)
  • Is protected by his lips (Proverbs 14:3)
  • Gives thought to his steps (Proverbs 14:15)
  • Fears the Lord and shuns evil (Proverbs 14:16)
  • Weighs answers (Proverbs 15:28)
  • Listens to rebukes (Proverbs 19:25)
  • Turns away anger (Proverbs 29:8)
  • Brings calm (Proverbs 29:11)

The Foolish Person

  • Shows annoyance at once (Proverbs 12:16)
  • Blurts out folly (Proverbs 12:23)
  • Is a companion of other fools (Proverbs 13:20)
  • Lashes out (Proverbs 14:3)
  • Lacks knowledge (Proverbs 14:7)
  • Is hot-headed and yet feels secure (Proverbs 14:16)
  • Is quick tempered (Proverbs 14:29)
  • Gushes folly (Proverbs 15:2)
  • Is thought wise if he holds his tongue (Proverbs 17:27)
  • Takes no pleasure in understanding; wants to air his own views (Proverbs 18:2)
  • Causes strife and his mouth invites a beating (Proverbs 18:6)
  • Allows his mouth to be his undoing (Proverbs 18:7)
  • Answers before listening (Proverbs 18:13)
  • Is quick to quarrel (Proverbs 20:3)
  • Scorns prudent words (Proverbs 23:9)
  • Is not to be emulated (Proverbs 26:4)
  • Rages and scoffs (Proverbs 29:9)
  • Gives full vent to his rage (Proverbs 29:11)
  • Stirs up anger and produces strive (Proverbs 30:32-33)

The Mocker

  • Does not find wisdom (Proverbs 14:6)
  • Mocks at making amends (Proverbs 14:9)
  • Resents correction and avoids the wise (Proverbs 15:12)
  • Mocks at justice (Proverbs 19:28)
  • Behaves with insolent fury (Proverbs 21:24)
  • Creates strife; If you drive him out, quarrels and insults are ended (Proverbs 22:10)
  • Stirs up anger (Proverbs 29:8)

The Simple Person

  • Believes anything (Proverbs 14:15)100 Proverbs That Teach Us How to Speak, Listen, and Respectfully Disagree
  • Learns prudence when a mocker is punished (Proverbs 19:25)
  • Gains wisdom when the mocker is punished (Proverbs 21:11)
  • Gains knowledge if they pay attention to the wise (Proverbs 21:11)

How Much and How We Should Talk

The Proverbs also discuss how we should talk and how much we should talk. Here, Solomon is not discussing the wise or the fool specifically, but providing general counsel in regulating our speech.

How We Should Talk

  • Hold your tongue. Don’t multiply words (Proverbs 10:19)
  • Guard your lips (Proverbs 13:3)
  • Remember that gentle answers turn away wrath (Proverbs 15:1)
  • A soothing tongue leads to life; A perverse tongue crushes the spirit (Proverbs 15:4)
  • Gracious words promote instruction (Proverbs 16:21)
  • Save yourself from calamity by guarding your tongue (Proverbs 21:23)
  • Patience persuades and a gentle tongue can break a bone (Proverbs 25:15)
  • Don’t rush into quarrels that are not your own (Proverbs 26:17)
  • Don’t gossip (Proverbs 26:20-21)
  • Let others praise you (Proverbs 27:2)

A Psychology of Disagreement

I have only unpacked a few concepts relating to respectful dialogue. The Proverbs have much more to say about how we should conduct ourselves even as we disagree with others. Solomon provided the psychology behind his instruction.

For example, what happens when you call your opponent a pejorative name in order to make your point? You feel better—perhaps even superior—but Solomon tells us that you have hardened him against your cause. That approach always backfires. Have you ever been won over to your opponent’s perspective by cutting words?

The Psychology:

  • Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense (Proverbs 11:12)
  • The words of the reckless pierce like swords (Proverbs 12:18)
  • A brother wronged is more unyielding than a fortified city (Proverbs 18:19)
  • An undeserved curse does not come to rest (Proverbs 26:2)
  • A lying tongue hates those it hurts (Proverbs 26:28)
  • Stirring up anger produces strife (Proverbs 30:33)

All of these lists are incomplete in themselves. If you really want to get a sense of what the Proverbs say about how you should speak, read the following 100 verses.

woman reads bible
(Photo: Joel Muniz/Unsplash)

100 Verses that Teach us How to Speak, Listen and Respectfully Disagree

  • The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,

but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. (Proverbs 10:11)

  • Hatred stirs up conflict,

but love covers over all wrongs. (Proverbs 10:12)

  • Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips

and spreads slander is a fool. (Proverbs 10:18)

  • Sin is not ended by multiplying words,

but the prudent hold their tongues. (Proverbs 10:19)

  • The lips of the righteous know what finds favor,

but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse. (Proverbs 10:32)

  • With their mouths the godless destroy their neighbors,

but through knowledge the righteous escape. (Proverbs 11:9)

  • Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted,

but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed. (Proverbs 11:11)

  • Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense,

but the one who has understanding holds their tongue. (Proverbs 11:12)

  • The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood,

but the speech of the upright rescues them. (Proverbs 12:6)

  • Fools show their annoyance at once,

but the prudent overlook an insult. (Proverbs 12:16)

  • The words of the reckless pierce like swords,

but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)

  • The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves,

but a fool’s heart blurts out folly. (Proverbs 12:23)

  • Those who guard their lips preserve their lives,

but those who speak rashly will come to ruin. (Proverbs 13:3)

  • Where there is strife, there is pride,

but wisdom is found in those who take advice. (Proverbs 13:10)

  • Walk with the wise and become wise,

for a companion of fools suffers harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

  • A fool’s mouth lashes out with pride,

but the lips of the wise protect them. (Proverbs 14:3)

  • The mocker seeks wisdom and finds none,

but knowledge comes easily to the discerning. (Proverbs 14:6)

  • Stay away from a fool,

for you will not find knowledge on their lips. (Proverbs 14:7)

  • Fools mock at making amends for sin,

but goodwill is found among the upright. (Proverbs 14:9)

  • The simple believe anything,

but the prudent give thought to their steps. (Proverbs 14:15)

  • The wise fear the Lord and shun evil,

but a fool is hotheaded and yet feels secure. (Proverbs 14:16)

  • Whoever is patient has great understanding,

but one who is quick-tempered displays folly. (Proverbs 14:29)

  • A gentle answer turns away wrath,

but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

  • The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge,

but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. (Proverbs 15:2)

  • The soothing tongue is a tree of life,

but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)

  • Mockers resent correction,

so they avoid the wise. (Proverbs 15:12)

  • A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,

but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. (Proverbs 15:18)

  • The heart of the righteous weighs its answers,

but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil. (Proverbs 15:28)

  • Pride goes before destruction,

a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

  • The wise in heart are called discerning,

and gracious words promote instruction. (Proverbs 16:21)

  • A scoundrel plots evil,

and on their lips it is like a scorching fire. (Proverbs 16:27)

  • A perverse person stirs up conflict,

and a gossip separates close friends. (Proverbs 16:28)

  • Whoever winks with their eye is plotting perversity;

whoever purses their lips is bent on evil. (Proverbs 16:30)

  • Better a patient person than a warrior,

one with self-control than one who takes a city. (Proverbs 16:32)

  • A wicked person listens to deceitful lips;

a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue. (Proverbs 17:4)

  • Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker;

whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 17:5)

  • Eloquent lips are unsuited to a godless fool—

how much worse lying lips to a ruler! (Proverbs 17:7)

  • Evildoers foster rebellion against God; (Proverbs 17:11)
  • Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam;

so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out. (Proverbs 17:14)

  • Whoever loves a quarrel loves sin;

whoever builds a high gate invites destruction. (Proverbs 17:19)

  • One whose heart is corrupt does not prosper;

one whose tongue is perverse falls into trouble. (Proverbs 17:20)

  • The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,

and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. (Proverbs 17:27)

  • Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,

and discerning if they hold their tongues. (Proverbs 17:28)

  • An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends

and against all sound judgment starts quarrels. (Proverbs 18:1)

  • Fools find no pleasure in understanding

but delight in airing their own opinions. (Proverbs 18:2)

  • When wickedness comes, so does contempt,

and with shame comes reproach. (Proverbs 18:3)

  • The lips of fools bring them strife,

and their mouths invite a beating. (Proverbs 18:6)

  • The mouths of fools are their undoing,

and their lips are a snare to their very lives. (Proverbs 18:7)

  • Before a downfall the heart is haughty,

but humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 18:12)

  • To answer before listening—

that is folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13)

  • A brother wronged is more unyielding than a fortified city;

disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel. (Proverbs 18:19)

  • The tongue has the power of life and death,

and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21)

  • Better the poor whose walk is blameless

than a fool whose lips are perverse. (Proverbs 19:1)

  • A person’s wisdom yields patience;

it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense. (Proverbs 19:11)

  • A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty;

rescue them, and you will have to do it again. (Proverbs 19:19)

  • Flog a mocker, and the simple will learn prudence;

rebuke the discerning, and they will gain knowledge. (Proverbs 19:25)

  • A corrupt witness mocks at justice,

and the mouth of the wicked gulps down evil. (Proverbs 19:28)

  • It is to one’s honor to avoid strife,

but every fool is quick to quarrel. (Proverbs 20:3)

  • A gossip betrays a confidence;

so avoid anyone who talks too much. (Proverbs 20:19)

  • Haughty eyes and a proud heart—

the unplowed field of the wicked—produce sin. (Proverbs 21:4)

  • The wicked crave evil;

their neighbors get no mercy from them. (Proverbs 21:10)

  • When a mocker is punished, the simple gain wisdom;

by paying attention to the wise they get knowledge. (Proverbs 21:11)

  • Whoever pursues righteousness and love

finds life, prosperity and honor. (Proverbs 21:21)

  • Those who guard their mouths and their tongues

keep themselves from calamity. (Proverbs 21:23)

  • The proud and arrogant person—“Mocker” is his name—

behaves with insolent fury. (Proverbs 21:24)

  • The wicked put up a bold front,

but the upright give thought to their ways. (Proverbs 21:29)

  • Humility is the fear of the Lord;

its wages are riches and honor and life. (Proverbs 22:4)

  • Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife;

quarrels and insults are ended. (Proverbs 22:10)

  • Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person,

do not associate with one easily angered,

or you may learn their ways

and get yourself ensnared (Proverbs 22:24-25)

  • Do not speak to fools,

for they will scorn your prudent words. (Proverbs 23:9)

  • Do not gloat when your enemy falls;

when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, (Proverbs 24:17)

  • An honest answer

is like a kiss on the lips. (Proverbs 24:26)

  • Remove the dross from the silver,

and a silversmith can produce a vessel; (Proverbs 25:4)

  • Remove wicked officials from the king’s presence,

and his throne will be established through righteousness. (Proverbs 25:5)

  • Through patience a ruler can be persuaded,

and a gentle tongue can break a bone. (Proverbs 25:15)

  • Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow

is one who gives false testimony against a neighbor. (Proverbs 25:18)

  • If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;

if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. (Proverbs 25:21)

  • In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,

and the Lord will reward you. (Proverbs 25:22)

  • Like a city whose walls are broken through

is a person who lacks self-control. (Proverbs 25:28)

  • Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow,

an undeserved curse does not come to rest. (Proverbs 26:2)

  • Do not answer a fool according to his folly,

or you yourself will be just like him. (Proverbs 26:4)

  • Answer a fool according to his folly,

or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:5)

  • Do you see a person wise in their own eyes?

There is more hope for a fool than for them. (Proverbs 26:12)

  • Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears

is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own. (Proverbs 26:17)

  • Without wood a fire goes out;

without a gossip a quarrel dies down. (Proverbs 26:20)

  • As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire,

so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife. (Proverbs 26:21)

  • A lying tongue hates those it hurts,

and a flattering mouth works ruin. (Proverbs 26:28)

  • Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth;

an outsider, and not your own lips. (Proverbs 27:2)

  • Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming,

but who can stand before jealousy? (Proverbs 27:4)

  • Wounds from a friend can be trusted,

but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Proverbs 27:6)

  • The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold,

but people are tested by their praise. (Proverbs 27:21)

  • Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favor

rather than one who has a flattering tongue. (Proverbs 28:23)

  • Mockers stir up a city,

but the wise turn away anger. (Proverbs 29:8)

  • If a wise person goes to court with a fool,

the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace. (Proverbs 29:9)

  • Fools give full vent to their rage,

but the wise bring calm in the end. (Proverbs 29:11)

  • Do you see someone who speaks in haste?

There is more hope for a fool than for them. (Proverbs 29:20)

  • An angry person stirs up conflict,

and a hot-tempered person commits many sins. (Proverbs 29:22)

  • The righteous detest the dishonest;

the wicked detest the upright. (Proverbs 29:27)

  • “If you play the fool and exalt yourself,

or if you plan evil,

clap your hand over your mouth! (Proverbs 30:32)

  • For as churning cream produces butter,

and as twisting the nose produces blood,

so stirring up anger produces strife.” (Proverbs 30:33)


Darin Gerdes, Ph.D. is a management professor in the College of Business at Charleston Southern University. He is the host of the Leadersmith Podcast.

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