“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Proverbs 15:1
During my years managing a bond trading desk for a large Wall Street investment bank I had the good fortune of being surrounded by a group of people who were amazing at keeping their cool. To fully appreciate what I’m saying it is important to understand that securities trading by the mere nature of its fast pace and fierce competition can be at times, shall we say, a bit emotionally charged. Tempers can flare in a heartbeat. But the people on my team were absolute masters at calming the fiercest anger. Their calm voices coupled with their professional competence — and I might add, a good sense of humor — could quickly douse the hottest flames.
No one understood this better than Christ himself, who treated his own executioners with gentleness, despite their cruelty, even praying for their forgiveness, “for they know not what they were doing,” he said. Foretold by Isaiah centuries earlier who prophesied about the Messiah, “He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” And through this demonstration of gentleness rather than harsh words, Jesus became the most influential person in the history of the world.
But I had to learn the lesson of this Proverb the hard way. I was a hot-shot young executive at the time — arrogant, self-absorbed, self-important, self-serving, and impatient. One afternoon on my way home I had stopped off at a supermarket to purchase milk. At the checkout, I failed to notice that the lane I was in had just closed. I became furious, taking my anger out on the poor checkout lady. But rather than lashing back at me, which she had every right to do, she remained gentle and kind, perhaps even praying that I be forgiven “for I knew not what I was doing.” I still did not back down. Afterwards I felt ashamed, my bad behavior haunting me to this day. Eventually, I made a promise to myself not to ever act that way again, a pledge I have pretty much kept ever since. Like a mini-version of what Jesus did, the demonstration of gentleness rather than harsh words from that kind grocery store clerk influenced me to become a better person.
As the wise words of the Proverb teach us, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”