When Arguing With A Fool
“Never argue with a fool. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.” –Mark Twain
We’ve all been there. You’re enjoying your morning coffee, catching up on a little Facebook (a.k.a. an online forum for personal rants, bragging, stolen quotes, pictures of food, and plans to “tie one on” this weekend), and then you read the most ridiculous comment, statistic, or viewpoint you’ve seen in weeks. Coffee spews from your nose and mouth. You stammer through half a dozen incomplete statements (trying not to verbalize what you’re actually thinking). “That person’s a complete…” “Is she really that…?” “No one can be that…” Hmmm.
Something needs to be said. Foolishness at this level cannot go unchecked. In a world gone mad, someone has to be the voice of reason. This morning, it’s you! …right after you clean the coffee from your computer screen.
With a head full of steam and a screen free of coffee, you start crafting a wise (yet snarky) reply. It’s perfect. Reasonable, pleasant, brief—with just a hint of sarcasm. Just before you hit the enter button, this little voice in your head says, “Leave it alone.”
What? Leave it alone? You can’t leave it alone. Your wisdom is too profound not to make it into cyberspace. The other person needs to be corrected or at least challenged. Besides, if you don’t say something, they may mislead others.
You think for half a second about the merits of “leaving it alone,” but then you’re reminded that the little voice in your head has been wrong before (i.e. remember that ugly couch you bought). You hit the enter button anyway. Sweet relief! It’s sent, you’re done, the voice of reason has spoken.
Within five minutes, your computer screen lights up like a Christmas tree with replies. The person who made the original comment shows their deep displeasure by sharing some phrases straight from the construction site. Other people come to their defense and get in a few jabs of their own. You get 2 “at a boy” likes on your post, while receiving 25 verbal attacks against your mental wellbeing.
It’s at that moment that three realities set in. First, ignorance travels in herds and you’re standing at the watering hole. Second, people are unbelievably bold—online. Third, you should have listened to the little voice in your head.
It reminds me of a quote from Solomon. “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 26:4-5). The two statements almost sound contradictory. If you answer the fool, you will be like him. If you don’t answer the fool, he will think he’s right.
The key is found in the phrase “according to his folly.” If you argue with a fool on his own terms (according to his folly), you stoop to his level, and will match his foolishness. If you answer a fool “as his folly deserves,” it means you expose the foolishness of his words through calm reasoning that attempts to move the conversation to truth. The response cannot be for the purpose of venting your frustration, or telling someone off, or even exposing foolishness. Foolishness does not need to be highlighted; it needs to be confronted with wisdom.
How do you apply this concept? In matters that are insignificant, it’s probably best to ignore foolish comments altogether. Everyone shares a few rants said in the heat of the moment or after a bad day. Give people the benefit of the doubt and be glad that you’ve not been challenged on every foolish thing you’ve said.
In matters of significance, it’s important to respond with wisdom in an effort to lead the person to truth. If the person is truly a fool, they will reject the truth completely. If the person had a foolish moment, hopefully they will receive the truth presented in a calm way.
Save your responses for the big stuff. Take the conversation off the online platforms where tempers rage and mob mentality takes over. The more you can deescalate the situation, the better chances you have for making a difference.
Finally, keep in mind that your reply containing the “voice of reason” may be someone else’s starting point for arguing with a fool. Just a thought…