Sometimes I write about subjects in which I feel that I as an individual or that our family as a whole has done a fairly good job.  For example, yesterday I wrote about family loyalty , an area where we have not struggled as individuals and so it was easy and pain free to write about it. Not so my friend, with today’s subject….a soft answer. This one is going to be flatout painful. Why? Because I am horrible at it. Rarely do I give a soft answer and it is something that I pray about all the time. The Bible says in Proverbs 15:1- A SOFT ANSWER TURNETH AWAY WRATH BUT GRIEVOUS WORDS STIR UP ANGER…..ouch. I was raised in a home of six children, the first five were boys, then came yours truly. Needless to say, being the only girl with five older brothers set the stage for a rather unique experience at both ends of the spectrum. In one respect, I was spoiled and doted on when I was really little, yet as I grew older I faced a very real challenge on a weekly , sometimes a daily basis to stay sane and calm in the midst of merciless teasing and endless confrontations. I have heard it said that there are basically two kinds of families;  the first is the quiet silent type that in general does not express their feelings and carries on without hardly ever having confrontation. This is not to say that there are not disputes or hurt feelings and such, it’s just that these true feelings are rarely expressed openly. The family members may either harbor hurt or anger within themselves or they may let the hurt roll off their shoulder so to speak, but rarely if ever is their an open verbal confrontation about an issue. The second type of family is the one that lays it all on the table. It is completely open, loud , raucous even and not only does not avoid confrontation, but in a weird sort of way, almost thrives on it. The Simpson family, the family that I was born into definitely fell into this latter category. No, to be more accurate, we defined that category. My five brothers were all born within seven years of each other, with a pair of twins in there to boot.  I have vivid memories of verbal shouting matches across the dinner table, of boys getting mad and shoving one another into many a Christmas tree (which then fell over), of two of my brothers holding another one of my brothers by his ankles upside down at the top of the laundry chute which extended down two full stories of our house.  I remember sneered lips and chest thumping toward each other over NFL football games and tense, confrontational conversations that were provoked by disputes over late into the night games of Risk at the kitchen table. My dad had a regular routine for settling my brothers continual verbal disputes. He would simply grab each one by the ear, strap on the everlast boxing gloves , throw them out in the back yard and say “Go ahead, beat each other’s brains out and you are not allowed to quit until one of you clobbers the other one to the point that they can’t get up off the ground”. Not a practice that I recommend to any family. I could go on and on but I hope I have painted a picture for you as to the tone and tenor of the home and family in which I grew up. Calmness, tact, diplomacy, subtlty, soft and gentle conversation were all foreign concepts to all of us that dwelt in that crazy, wild but fun household.

      Now fast forward from my childhood twenty years later where I found myself as an   adult and as the product of my upbringing, as all of us are. I made the natural mistake that a lot of people do in assuming that all familes are pretty much the same and so therefore most folks and families operate the same way that mine did…just speaking their mind, being forthright, direct, and if that meant being confrontational, so be it. It was not long before I realized that I was very off base in my assumption that most folks relate to others in that manner. I quickly came to the conclusion that in fact, the opposite was more accurate, that I was learning that most folks tended to be more on the quiet side, of a reserved nature , slow to voice or express what they were truly feeling inside. For several years of my adult life, I then came to another wrong conclusion….I decided that this more quiet , more sedate and reserved group was somehow inferior to the more outspoken folks of which I was a member . I also somehow mistakenly believed that the less confrontational group somehow wished that they could be more like those of us who freely and openly expressed ourselves. To sum it up, my skewed conclusion was that it was more virtuous to always  express what one was thinking rather than keep it to one’s self.  It has only been in the last few years that I have recognized that is not an accurate truth as well. Instead I have realized that even though open expression does at times have merit, that it is often much more virtuous and beneficial to take time to respond and then when one does, to do it in a soft and thoughtful manner. Please note that I said that I have recognized this trait or skill as a positive thing, not that I have reached a point of developing that myself. I had to include that admission and disclaimer for my close friends and family who know me all too well!  Each and every time however that I have been able to remain calm enough to respond in a soft or kind tone, I am amazed at the response of the person that I am talking to. Immediately it disarms that other person. Their defensive posture seems to disappear before my very eyes. I am realizing the truth of Proverbs 15:1 that states that a soft answer does indeed turn away wrath. It makes the angry party simply not want to continue to be angry. For years, I sort of excused myself for not working on developing this character trait because I always mentally fell back on the reality of the family that I grew up in and how that shaped my basic personality and character. While this is true of all of us, it should never be an excuse if you will, or an accepted reason for us as Christians to not adhere to and follow truth for us such as Proverbs 15:1 that is clearly laid out for us to follow. I will never forget an incident that happened when I once was at a highschool basketball game. The two teams were arch rivals whose schools were located across town from one another.  One of the players from one team missed the basket, the rim, everything on one of his shots. Many of the students in the stands from the other school began chanting “ AIR BALL , AIR BALL “ in unison to embarrass that player. I remember that player running back to get on defense and pointedly running right towards our section of the bleachers  where all of the hecklers were sitting in the first few rows.  I looked up at him anticipating his retort…I thought he was going to retaliate with a like response and so did the opposing fans..they were waiting in anticipation for some angry words to spew out of this young man’s mouth so much so that everyone stopped heckling to hear what this player was going to yell back at them that would then in turn escalate the tension. I was amazed at what happened next. Instead of yelling back something of a taunting nature or something caustic , he simply smiled and said very softly “GOD BLESS YOU” and continued running away from the group in the bleachers and kept playing on. I remember a hushed silence fell over that group of students that had been yelling “AIR BALL” because that is not the response they were expecting…and they felt sort of embarrassed. No one really knew what to say. In just three short powerful words that were quietly uttered by this highschool ball player, he had diffused all the tension and had proven Proverbs 15:1 to be so very true. What a powerful lesson that was and what a vivid memory that incident still is to me today.

         Let’s ask ourselves “Do I react strongly and harshly?” or  “Do I respond softly and thoughtfully ?”  This writer as I said in the beginning of this article does not have a history of high scores in this category but am endeavoring each day to do better. I want to be able to be more like that basketball player who already seemed to have a handle on this issue at such a tender age. He was a teacher that day and all who heard him knew it.  Perhaps the next time we are tempted to fire back at someone whether it be at home,  in the workplace, in a friendship, perhaps at church , we can remember that kid on the court. I have a really long way to go, probably more than most , but the more that I put God’s word to the test, the more it proves itself true. A soft answer…it really does teach a loud lesson .