Faith and Family

Lynn Jones: Gentle words can defuse anger

By Lynn Jones

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

Do your words ever stir up anger? When you get frustrated or feel that someone has been unfair to you, do you let it out on them with your words?

Some people feel that you need to vent your anger—if you let it build up in you, it will be bad for you. Studies indicate, however, that anger does not work that way. Expressed anger creates a vicious circle that will continually repeat itself unless the circle is broken.

Gary Collins cites a study of children who were allowed to express their anger. They were encouraged to kick the furniture, to freely express their pent-up anger. After doing this, the children were angrier than they had been at the beginning. Venting does not make anger go away. More often, venting simply fuels our anger and makes it worse.

Put away harsh and angry words. They don’t help. They hinder. As Proverbs 15:1 says, “A harsh word stirs up anger.”

But the other side of the coin is that a gentle answer defuses anger. The first part of Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.”

When you encounter an angry person, what is your response? The most common response is to respond with anger. The problem with that is that if you meet anger with anger all that you have is more anger. Fighting fire with fire produces more fire. It doesn’t put out any fires. The writer of Proverbs encourages us to try a different approach: “A gentle answer turns away wrath.”

I heard of an old minister who was counseling a young man about his approaching marriage. He said, “Here’s what I would recommend. If you want to have a peaceful and happy marriage, don’t attend every argument that you’re invited to.”

I’d say that’s good advice for marriage, and it’s also good advice for all of life. There are a lot of people out there who want to have a good argument, which may lead to something worse. But it takes two to argue. If you will try a gentle answer instead of a harsh word, you will be amazed at how many arguments and how much anger you can avoid. Kindness and gentleness are what graphite is to a lock or oil is to an engine. They reduce friction and heat. Gentle words do that in relationships. They take away the heated moment and make things go more smoothly.

An old proverb says, “A drop of cool water can silence a boiling pot.” That single drop of cool water, when added to the boiling pot, can lower the temperature of the water below the boiling point. A gentle word can do that in a heated moment. As Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.”

Lynn Jones is a retired pastor who lives in Oxford. He does supply preaching for churches in his area and often serves as an interim pastor. Jones is also an author, has written two books and writes a weekly newspaper column. He may be contacted at:

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