“Scolding is better (Prov 27,5)”

by John Wijngaards, GEMS OF WISDOM Series the New Leader, 18 January 1976


“Better open scolding than love without speaking” (Prov. 27, 5)

We live in a century that has become aware of man’s psychological needs. Freud helped us realize that man’s actions are often motivated by what goes on in his subconscious. Through transactional analysis Bezne has demonstrated that people play deep and complicated games under the surface of their everyday relationship. Man’s mental make-up is not as simple as it looks. The true reason of man’s actions are often quite the opposite of what they pretend to be. In psychology one plus one doesn’t make two.

The proverb quoted above, although it is 2,500 years old, offers a remarkably clear insight into the psychological complexity of people. It states the fact that we may hurt other people more by not speaking to them than by telling them off. Or, to put it in different words: Human love can only exist where there is communication.

In other wisdom texts stress is laid on the usefulness of correction. A father may have to show his love by using the stick (Prov 13, 24). Punishment can be a true sign of parental affection (Sir 30, 1). A teacher who always reproves his pupils will be more appreciated in the end than the person who always flatters (Prov. 28, 3). Scolding another person can therefore be an expression of one’s love. But that isn’t precisely the point here.

Every human person needs encouragement and affection. Psychologists tell us that many children are emotionally starved because their parents or teachers do not show them enough attention and interest. All of us have experienced the strain of living with a person who is not on speaking terms with us. The lack of spoken affection and love creates a similar tension in those with whom we live. It is this so truly human need which the sacred author is speaking about.

Parents and those who hold similar positions in life often forget this need of speaking to their children or others entrusted to them. A father may be proud of his daughter who is doing well at college. If he never expresses his satisfaction, the daughter may feel disillusioned and unhappy even without realizing the reason for it. A religious sister may do some wonderful work in a difficult mission. If her superior rarely speaks a word of appreciation, the sister may be put under a psychological strain which she herself may find it difficult to understand.

People who have studied human relations tell us that the lack of sufficient personal communication is a more frequent occurrence than we might think. In his terrifying novel The Vipers’ Nest Francois Mauriac describes a family in which husband and wife have given up direct heart-to-heart conversation with one another. Both of them suffer deeply from the lack of affection which they would like to give and receive. But having begun their routine of petty squabbles and mutual silence they never came to a personal communication. What a real tragedy! What could have been a happy home has thus been turned into a vipers’ nest.

It may be good for each one of us to look around and see if we neglect others by such love-destroying silence. As the inspired author teaches us in the proverb, it is not enough to esteem and love people in secret. By not communicating with others, by not speaking to them in a really human and personal fashion, we may hurt them much more than if we were to scold them with harsh abuse. He who scolds at least treats the other as a person. The silence of non-interest hurts deeper and destroys more. We can be sure that at the last judgement Christ will not only speak of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. He may well say to us: “I was in need of a human word, but you did’ not speak to me.”