No Pleasure in Understanding

“A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions.”  Proverbs 18:2

For many years I have found the reassurance of conviction in this verse from the Proverbs. At times I know I have been far too quick to express my own thoughts. Hypocrite that I am, I commonly disparage this trait in others as “having a transponder stuck in SEND mode,” because the person who airs his or her own opinions is unable to hear the opinions of others.

And now it strikes me that I have always ignored the first half of the verse. I have viewed this verse (perhaps rightly) as motivation to shut up, but have I used it to inspire a sense of “pleasure in understanding”?

The verse strictly describes a “fool” as one who 1) “finds no pleasure in understanding” and 2) “delights in airing his own opinions.” The description given to us has to do with “pleasure” and “delight” – the things that inspire and titillate a person. So how does one describe the “anti-fool”? Would it no be the exact opposite of these two propositions? Would be be equivalent to say the following:

“A wise person delights in understanding; he takes no pleasure in airing his own opinions.”

Looking at it this way reveals something that was hidden (maybe to me only) before: What is the exact opposite of a person who delights to air his own opinions? Is it someone who simply keeps quiet? No, it is (according to this proverb at least) a person who finds pleasure in understanding. That means that he not only refrains from speaking when he could, but he listens to the opinions of others. He delights in hearing them speak, even if he disagrees, because exposure to a wide range of contrary opinions is the most intellectually healthy environment for personal development. It fosters understanding. And we want to be people who take pleasure, who delight in understanding.

The path of understanding, then, does not lie in isolation from the ideas of those who think differently. It lies in the difficult, thorny, humbling way of listening to the opinions of those with whom we may disagree. The process requires us to consider how their thoughts and values led them to the opinions they express, and causes us to reflect on, and perhaps modify, our own ideas.

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