Providing criticism without causing pain : lessons from the book of Proverbs

18 Oct 2017

The book of Proverbs is drawn from life. It describes “real life”. It is part of the Old Testament (OT) wisdom literature and according to Stendebach (2003:239), forms a “theology of practical reason”. The US professor of management, Michael A Zigarelli (1999:15), regards Proverbs to be the most practical book in the Bible, which inspired him to write a management book called “Management by Proverbs”. Proverbs, with its concentrated human experience and reflections, wants to help people cope in the world, live a fulfilled life and avoid danger (Albertz 1992:471). Because communication is such an important part of life, many proverbs deal with this topic. Bühlmann (1976) aptly titles his studies about Proverbs 10-31 “To talk and remain silent rightfully” (“Vom rechten Reden und Schweigen”). The following article concentrates on the aspects of criticism as a special kind of communication. Based on Proverbs, practical advice is provided about giving as well as accepting criticism. In this way, the parallels between the wisdom of the OT Proverbs and modern communication psychology will become clear. Regarding the exegesis and the theology of proverbs, I consulted the following works by the Old Testament theologians Bühlmann (1976), Murphy (1996, 1998), Plöger (2003), Stendebach (2003), von Rad (1992), Westermann (1996) and Zimmerli (1999). Concerning communication I learned greatly from Rosenberg (2003), Schulz von Thun (1997), and Weisbach and Sonne-Neubacher (2005).