Breakfast with Solomon - Proverbs 25:15
"By forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue breaks the bone"
Forbearance is two Hebrew words orek which means length and ap which means anger, face, nostril. These two words are translated in the NASB as forbearance: the ability to lengthen out the time before they become angry.
Ruler is the Hebrew word qasin which means chief, ruler, or leader. Clearly Solomon is trying to teach us how to change the mind of a boss or person in authority above us. This is a very important ability as we all will find ourselves in situations where those above us do not agree or do not see what we see.
Solomon is saying that if you want to bring about change in the people who are your leaders, you need to take the long view. Do not pitch a fit or demand change but instead slow down your anger. Anger results from unrealistic expectations. This means that if I am getting angry with my boss, then I have an unrealistic expectation in regards to that person. It may be the right expectation. It may be a noble expectation. Lots of other people may agree with me in regards to my expectation; but if I am getting angry, then it is unrealistic given my present situation. The way to lengthen your anger may be to communicate your position. It may be to understand your boss’ expectations and why they would think theirs is the appropriate expectation.
Notice that Solomon tells us that the soft tongue is the one that gets through. The words that are tender, soft, and delicate are the ones that will change a person's expectation. In other words, one has to lengthen out the time to bring about a change in expectation, and one has to share a new expectation – a new direction with no edges or harshness – if it is to be embraced. There is deep insight here in the analogy of the tongue. It is pliable and seemingly unable to bend or break bone; but in the process of working with people, it is the person who appears the most pliable and willing to change and adapt that makes the most progress especially with those who are higher in authority. You make little progress with a superior from the rebel position.
This is the Hebrew word sheber which means destruction, bruise, break, affliction. The word bone is the word gereem which means bone or strong or strength. The idea is a very interesting and odd visual. The word-picture is of a hard, unbending bone being broken by a soft, flexible tongue. It just doesn't connect in the material world. You don't break bones with soft, pliable objects. But Solomon is trying to shake your natural ideas of how things are done. He is saying that in the realm of people skills and especially working with those who are over you in authority, the force-on-force rules of the natural world does not work. A whole new set of rules applies.
He is giving us the keys to effective people skills. It is a shame so few people pay attention. A leader’s expectations and vision of the future is often hard and bone-like. If you have a different vision or expectation of the future, you will have to lengthen the time that your expectation may be accomplished. You will have to use your access to the leader and soft, inviting, and tender words to paint a different picture of the future than your boss has right at the present. Often this process can be done with questions more effectively than with statements.
Also realize that what Solomon is saying with this odd visual is that changing your boss’ mind is possible. It will take more time than you want to give it. You need to get a more realistic picture of when this expectation of yours may take place. It is the unthreatening nature of your words and their helpfulness and encouraging nature that will break the fixed vision of your boss.
Now let's apply this to teens and their parents. Most teens have all kinds of plans they want to do, and they just expect their parents to immediately approve of all these plans as soon as they hear them. This is naive and unrealistic. Solomon's wisdom comes in handy here, especially when what the teen wants to do is completely different or against what the parent would typically allow.
How should you proceed as a teen? First, realize that this may take some time and not just one encounter or request. You will need to do some research as to the positive benefits of these things that you want to do that your parents may not want you to do. Your attitude will have to be one of soft pliability and not rebellious obstinacy. "Here is something I was hoping to be able to do because it will increase my musical appreciation or awareness of this or that, but I am just thinking about it. Any thoughts here?" Then later, information about the positives of what you are hoping to do... with a pliability and recognition that they could say no.
This pliability, new information, time, and lack of anger and demanding will go a long way to convincing a parent or person in authority to do what they may not have heard of and what they may have normally opposed.