Ratty old cardinal ornament on my old tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The cardinal is a lie

I get really put out at people sometimes. Maybe I’m impatient. Maybe I expect too much. I don’t know, but few things can irritate me more than people. And it doesn’t have to be any particular people; just people. There are bad driver people. There are selfish people. There are loud people and rude people and church people and the list can go on and on and on, and they all can irritate the fire out of me. But I get the most angry–almost to the point of saying and doing things I would regret–around foolish people.

We all know foolish people. And I’m certainly not saying that I’m the sharpest knife in the drawer. Believe me, I’ve done some pretty stupid things in my life, but I have tried my best to never be in the people group the Bible calls fools. I’m not making it up; it’s all over the Bible, characteristics of fools, what they sound like, what they dress like, how they handle stress, how they behave. Read Proverbs, and you’ll find the majority of verses about being a fool, like today’s verse.

Ratty old cardinal ornament on my old tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Ratty old cardinal ornament on my old tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 18:2.

Fools have no interest in understanding;
they only want to air their own opinions.

What if I told you I chose the photo for this post because it’s a real cardinal in a real pine tree? Well, you’d be completely within your rights to correct me. One, it’s a fake cardinal, a Christmas tree ornament. Two, it’s a fake pine tree. How did you come to that conclusion? You thought about it. Good grief, you looked at it. The paint is coming off the bird’s beak, it’s missing a leg, its feathers are falling off, the tree has lights in it, and the pine needles look like they’re made of fabric. Because they are.

But what if I’ve convinced myself it’s real? What if I’m not interested in hearing what you have to say? What if I only care about what I think the photo means?

See what I’m saying? A fool rejects truth and substitutes their own reality in its place, whether it’s true in any sense or not. And they don’t really care how it hurts them or the people around them.

That’s a silly example but have you ever tried to argue with a person like that? Have you ever tried to reason with a person like that? It’s exhausting. They refuse to listen, and you end the argument feeling bluer and more disheartened than you were when you started.

I’m pretty sure I’ve posted about this before, and I want to make sure that I communicate this as kindly as possible. I can’t see people’s hearts. I don’t know their motivation. That is between them and God, and I have no right to make a judgment call about it. But I can make my own judgment about someone’s behavior, and I can change how I react to them.

Christmas is a time when all sorts of people who don’t ever see each other spend time together. Extended amounts of time. In small cramped rooms. The inevitable conflict will always erupt, sometimes contained, sometimes not. Welcome to family holidays, right?

I guess this is weighing on me today because I always seem to encounter foolish people when I really need to be focusing on accomplishing something. And I spend so much time trying to straighten them out or worrying about what I’ve said to them or that I did something wrong that I lose the chance to do something worthwhile. And please don’t ever think I’m condoning abandoning people. God doesn’t do that; so we shouldn’t either.

But some people–and you know exactly the kind I’m talking about–don’t want to be helped. They don’t want to change. They want you to be as disruptive and chaotic as they are, and if they can bring you down to where they are, they’ll feel better about themselves.

Don’t let them. You have a choice.

The truth about foolish people is that there’s nothing you can do for them. A true fool is beyond your help. Curing a true fool of his or her foolishness takes Divine Intervention. Love them, yes. Pray for them, yes. But don’t try to fix them. You can’t fix yourself.

Do what you need to do. Speak truth in love. Don’t let them drag you into their conflicts. Keep pressing forward, and keep paying attention. Otherwise someday, when someone tells you a fake cardinal in a fake tree is real, you’ll go along with it. Then who’s the fool?

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Apricot buds

Pleasant words are persuasive

When you know something is right and you know others need to change their thinking about a situation or a circumstance, how do you convince them? There are a couple of ways to do it. You can nag, but personally I don’t find that avenue useful at all, since nagging spurs me to ignore whoever is talking. You can lecture. You can hit people over the head with your points, metaphorically of course. But I haven’t seen that any of those options really work.

If the goal is to convince someone to change their mind, you can’t change their mind for them; you have to convince them that it’s worth doing and then step back and let them make the choice.

Apricot buds

Apricot buds - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 16:21.

The wise are known for their understanding, and pleasant words are persuasive.

I had to write a number of persuasive papers and speeches all throughout my school years, and while I didn’t really enjoy doing them, I know I learned a lot about persuading people. The one speech that stands out in my memory is a persuasive speech I gave in a college class about why our university needed to switch food service providers.

I gave a lot of good points, and I listed all the facts. And I put up lots of pictures of food. Like pizza. And hamburgers. By the end of the speech, the whole class was ready to agree with me just because they were so hungry they wanted to go eat lunch!

So I contrast that speech with the caucus I attended for the last presidential race. I wrote a funny, stupid blog post about it on a funny, stupid blog I started years and years ago and haven’t had time to update. But it was mainly an experience where a lot of old people gathered and lectured on the merits of their respective candidates, some with fervor verging on religious. I hadn’t felt so harangued since the last time I was in a Baptist church, and instead of being persuaded to vote for any of them, I was put off entirely. I still voted, but I actually ended up voting for the representative who was the most professional and didn’t scream at us.

This verse in Proverbs says that pleasant words are persuasive. It sort of echoes Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer deflects anger.” There’s something about being pleasant that encourages people to talk to you, to listen to you. Maybe it’s a lack of pleasant people around, but if you can maintain a pleasant tone and attitude you’re far more likely to have a good conversation with someone, no matter if you’re trying to convince them of something or not.

So can you be pleasant and still persuade people? I think so.

The difference is your perspective. Because unpleasant people try to change the way other people think by beating them to death with their words, but pleasant people understand how other people think. If you want to convince someone to change their mind, you have to let them make the choice. Otherwise, they aren’t changing their mind; they’re just trying to get you off their back.

And let’s face it: getting in people’s faces about any topic isn’t attractive. Yelling and shouting and being offensive about any topic doesn’t make me want to agree with you; it makes me want to get away from you.

Now, are there circumstances where certain levels of righteous indignation is necessary? I think so. There are some issues where passionate speech is needed, but speech can still be passionate without being unpleasant.

Pleasant words are attractive. Pleasant people are attractive. Pleasant people are refreshing to be around and are uplifting on bad days. Pleasant people are just fun. They’re the people you go to when you’re down or when you’re discouraged about something or when you’re confused and need advice. You don’t go running to some obnoxious Bible thumper when you need direction, do you? If you do, that’s fine, but generally that’s not my preferred course of action. I run to the people I like to talk to anyway.

It doesn’t matter what topic you’re discussing. Just be nice about it and remember that it’s not your job to change other peoples’ hearts or minds. That’s something God does. You just be pleasant and use pleasant words, because in our selfish, idolatrous world (and even our mean, unfriendly Church) pleasant words are persuasive enough.