Sunday, January 17, 2010

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The Grandkiddie Chronicles - Episode 3471: “The S Word”


“ Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates reproof is like a cow.”
(Pr. 12:1, Berkeley Version)

One of the “perks” of being a grandparent is that one gets to star in the sit-coms scripted by the grandchildren. A favorite story of mine along those lines took place some months ago, when some grandchildren were playing in one part of our back yard, while I was gardening in another. One of them rushed up and accused his cousin of using “the s word”.

Not too surprisingly, I was incensed and let his cousin know that, under no circumstances was she to use that word. She was young, and not too articulate, but she made it clear that the word was not on the forbidden list, and refused to budge from that stance. We parted with the very stern warning on my part that use of that word was out. I went back to my gardening, wondering at her stubbornness (and she can be stubborn!) and then, after a while, “the nickel dropped”: I called her cousin over and asked if, when he had said “the s word”, he had meant “stupid”. “Yeah”, he replied (in a “what else?” tone).

There is a verse from Proverbs that speaks to my predicament at this point in the story:

“If one gives an answer before he hears,
it is his folly and shame.”
(Pr. 18:13)

However, bad as things were, they did recover a bit: I went to his cousin and confessed to her that I had wronged her, and told her I was sorry. It had a good effect.

Still, my heart wasn’t really right. There were internal grumblings about “political correctness” and all that for a while. In addition, I took pains to let her cousin know that he was not to use the phrase “the s word” in that sense again. Just to reinforce the point, I introduced him to Proverbs 12:1, in my bible:

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates reproof is stupid.”
(ESV)

On reflection, that was a “stupid” thing to do and I doubt he was helped by it. While it does make the point that, as “s words” go, “stupid” is hardly down at the bottom of the scale, it doesn’t really tell us what to do with the word. When should we use it?

One can gain some insight by comparing Pr. 12:1 in different versions of the bible: “Stupid” is by far the most common rendering (NIV, NASB, NKJV, CEV). But the King James rendering, “brutish” is sometimes found (KJV, ASV, YLT). As for what is meant by “brutish”, my favorite rendering is in the Berkeley Bible: “like a cow”. For those of us who have limited experience with cows, take a look at this link. If the intent of the Berkeley version had had to do with intelligence only, they might have chosen “like a sheep”. Instead, they chose “like a cow”. Perhaps the intent was to say that someone who resents being reproved has reduced themselves to acting no better than a cow, a donkey, or any other “brute beast” that is particularly stubborn and stupid.

So perhaps the following lessons as to what to do with the word “stupid”, at least in the sense that it’s used here, can be drawn:
1. It’s meaning here is very emphatically moral: It’s a type of wickedness in this context, not a measure of someone’s IQ.
2. Because of that, there definitely will be times when it will be appropriate to confront someone over “stupid” behavior, but one has the responsibility to be ready to explain the sense in which it’s being used: We need to be able explain that, in terms that aren’t needlessly offensive, “You’re acting like a cow.”

I doubt that my little granddaughter meant it that way. Instead, she probably meant it as simply an insult or put-down. (I imagine her cousins had made her angry - and she does anger easily.) So, had I thought all that through at the time, instead of “acting like a cow”, we might have been able to sit down together and work the issue through in terms of the loving conduct toward one another to which we are called in Christ. Young as they were, I think they could have understood the meaning of another verse from the same chapter of Proverbs:

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
(Pr. 12:18)

Instead, I reacted as I did and “a teachable moment” was lost (though asking her to forgive me did recover some good from the affair).

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