16 Fools have short fuses and explode all too quickly; the prudent quietly shrug off insults. 17 Truthful witness by a good person clears the air, but liars lay down a smoke screen of deceit. 18 Rash language cuts and maims, but there is healing in the words of the wise.
Ever know someone who has a "short fuse" - reacting at the drop of a pin and leaving everyone in their path standing there in the wake of their outburst. The simple truth is that they are "fools" - lacking judgment and wisdom that would keep them from damaging both themselves and those in their path. Yep, they are quite "enthusiastic", but they lack the sense to know when they should indulge in a certain behavior or withhold themselves. They are characterized by "speaking before thinking" - a sure sign that you will be putting your foot in your mouth!
The prudent, on the other hand, may "reserve" what they think for a later time, or never speak what they think. It is not because they don't believe their thoughts are valuable - they have learned that all that they think at the moment may not lend to the good of the situation. A prudent person is both wise in the present moment and forward-looking in their planning. There is a bigger picture in mind. The fool reacts to the moment - the prudent plans for the future. We often refer to this prudent one as discreet or controlled in their response. Trust me - discretion and control are both learned traits!
There are moments when the truth will be the best path to explore - allowing the air to be cleared between individuals. At other times, truth may be known, but it may not be the moment to speak it - simply because it will inflame the fool and lead to more issues arising that will have to be dealt with at a later time. Knowing when to speak truth is wisdom.
Rash language is simply anything spoken without taking the time to think it through. If there is one thing I have realized in my study of scripture, it is that it the same instruction, warning, or spiritual insight is taught more than once, God expects us to pay attention. This short passage speaks to us in about three different ways - all focusing on how and when we use our words! Therefore, we better sit up and take notice!
Rash words are those that are spoken without considering the consequences of those words. It is not just the words that are spoken, it is also the timing of the words, the ones that are hearing the words, and the framework in which our words are created. Yes, the words we speak matter, but we are not always cognizant of the audience. We would do well to consider if the one hearing what we are saying is really the right audience for those words. We can "frame" any message (even a difficult one) in a way that can be both constructive and edifying.
A fool engages in words that are both thoughtless (not a lot of thought before speaking them) and careless (headstrong and determined). Put them together and you have a recipe for many an unhappy relationship! The fool is often described as reckless, unthinking, indiscreet, lacking caution, etc. Not too flattering of a list of character traits, huh? The wise, on the other hand, are described as discreet, caring, respectful, concerned, etc. The difference is in the ability to "govern" our words.
This entire chapter of Proverbs is chocked full of the differences between the fool and the wise. Many other passages speak to the importance of our words - the impact they have on others. We would do well to consider the impact OUR words have today - they are reflections of either our wisdom, or our fool-hearty ways!