A sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven people who answer discreetly. Proverbs 26, verse 16.
Please walk with me for a moment. Instead of just talking about this verse, let’s look at what other Bible translations say about it. The King James version of it says, “The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason.” The Good News, another common translation, says, “A lazy person will think he is smarter than seven men who can give good reasons for their opinions.”
In the New Oxford Annotated Bible, the verse reads, “the lazy person is wiser in self-esteem that seven who can answer discreetly.” The Book says, “lazy people consider themselves smarter than seven wise counselors.” And The Living Bible translates the verse as, “Yet in his own opinion he is smarter than seven wise men.”
What’s the point in reading all these translations? I present them because I think it’s interesting how “sluggard” universally translates to “lazy,” which is no surprise. But what does surprise me is how “conceit” becomes “smarter” which equals “wiser in self-esteem.” It’s true that these are all synonymous words and phrases, but it interests me how they all eloquently describe the concept of self-centered vanity.
Point? You don’t have to be a know-it-all to learn things like this. And being a know-it-all DOESN’T help, you know. I’m one; I should know. I’m a vain, conceited, smart aleck know-it-all who sometimes loses the forest for the trees in thinking he’s always right and that he’s wiser in his self esteem than a room full of Stephen Hawking’s. All I did was look up a few different translations from Biblegateway.com or from the books on my shelves; anybody can do that. I’ve worked in rocket science and this isn’t rocket science! What it is, I hope, is an object lesson in a few simple points.
First, that the same thing can be said well in different ways. Then, that it doesn’t take anyone special (even a know-it-all) to sound smart or analyze universal concepts. Another lesson is that, no matter how you describe selfishness, whether it is described as conceit, being smarter than other people in the room, or a wiseacre, selfishness is still selfishness. That rose, by any other name, would still not smell too sweet.
Finally, there is something to be said for the cool, calm quiet of confidence. I admire such people. I admire people who keep their cool, who speak calmly and quietly. People I know have rightfully said that drama hugs me; that’s true. Making bold statements seems to come natural to me. That isn’t how I want to be, though. If I could change myself, I would become quieter, maybe a bit more contemplative, maybe less vocal. The opinions of a cool, calm, collected man hold more weight with me than those of a loud, overactive, boisterous know-it-all whose insecurities seem to outweigh his good sense.
The good news is that we can change. The over-eager overachiever can learn to cool his jets. The know-it-all can begin to listen instead of responding. The vocal man can learn to hold his tongue, and the boisterous loudmouth can become more cool, calm and collected. What is the common denominator? You know: God. Time doesn’t heal hearts: God heals hearts. Time makes the hurt lessen and fade; time teaches the know-it-all to use his words sparingly; time teaches the loud man to become quiet. Through that, however, it is God who heals the heart. It is God who changes us from the outside in. He inspires us to think differently, speak in new ways, act in new ways. Before we know it, we change. That means we can change for the better.
No matter how you translate that, it can be a good thing. And it doesn’t take a know-it-all to see it.