"From the fruit of their words good persons eat good things. . ." (Proverbs 13:2) Proverbs puts some emphasis on speech. Right speech, destructive speech, both the receiving and giving of
words. Words are important in my life, and I've enjoyed taking the time to acknowledge how they can be used with wisdom.
Proverbs mentions the fruit of receiving a good word from others. "A Wise child loves discipline, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke." (13:1) The context of these Proverbs is that of a father teaching his son, so that ought to be taken into consideration, particularly in a verse like 13:1, because if it is for a child then one should consider that of course the speaker would like the audience to listen and be able to be disciplined.
However both adults and older students can take seriously the proverb to listen to advice and take it seriously. When I see these proverbs, I see a value that I already have quite extremely: to take people and words quite seriously and to let them affect and transform you. I will return later to this idea of transformation later. For now, this is my starting point.
When receiving words from others, Proverbs does not stop at this comment. "The thoughts of the righteous are just; the advice of the wicked is treacherous." (12:5) It takes discernment in the process of being affected by another's words. In the proverbs about heeding admonition, I think it is often being assumed that the one rebuking is a wise parent towards a child. A Wise Person who is choosing words with care. That is the particular context. When Proverbs considers Speech, it takes an equal amount of time to emphasize that not all from whom one will be receiving advice will be wise, so one ought to exercise discernment and even listen with a critical ear. "A rebuke strikes deeper into a discerning person." (17:10)
This feeds into Proverbs' discussion (between proverbs) of what wise advise entails. "Fine speech is not becoming to a fool; still less is false speech to a ruler." (17:7) In leadership, choose words with care. ". . .Those who heed admonition gain understanding." (15:32) Speech can sound good in the mouth of a leader, but it will only be righteous and good if it comes from a person who has listened and gained understanding.
If you're like me, this might lead you to develop a particular vernacular over many years. I have learned words and phrases over time which I have decided articulate precisely what I mean. This comes from having heard them from others in particular contexts and letting them affect the way I look at similar situations in the future. I sincerely see how language can transform a problem or a truth. I know that I am not alone in this. Let me go on to say that it is not necessarily good, because it can result in clinging to words that I think say exactly what I mean.
For example, I have developed a vocabulary for differentiating between accuracy, validity, and truth. If something is factually correct, then it is accurate. If a statement is made that I think I understand and can empathize with its origin and support, but may not necessarily be agreeable, then it is valid. If a statement transcends situations and contexts in its both accuracy and validity, then it is truth.
Emanuel Kant has a similar structure in his terms describing something's appeal as good, agreeable, or beautiful. Something that is good could be chocolate cake; it is pleasing, but not necessarily beneficial. If it is agreeable, then it is appreciated perhaps ascetically and is contributing something positive to one's own world. If one calls something beautiful, then they must think that everyone in the world ought to agree with its beauty.
A difference is that Emanuel Kant thinks that others ought to subscribe to his vernacular when discussing beauty. This leads me to mention Wisdom in Conversation. In the book Leading with Wisdom by Mark Strom, there is a difference described between defining and naming. Defining within conversation puts the conversation in a box, binding it to a particular articulation and reality. Naming opens up conversation. By exploring words in a situation, we can find new ways, new perspectives, and therefore make new patterns and connections.
Strom also emphasizes not holding onto words and being open to new vocabulary. He suggests that it is in conversation that transformation happens. In Proverbs, it is easy to get the impression of having two options: talking at people or being spoken to. I think that wisdom is in the meeting of both, and a confrontation should not exclude one from the other. This is how speech transforms a wise person and not a fool.
In conversation, speech is constantly in a place of adaptation. That is why missionary work is the mother of Theology. It is in confronting new perspectives that one learns how to articulate the divine. It is good to choose words carefully, but even when you've found good ones, hold them loosely or they might become a way to close a lid on a conversation and therefore hinder transformation.
In the end, however, conversation will not truly transform without an "above the sun" perspective. It will not ultimately transform in a way that will transcend all human experiences. I am now turning to the wisdom of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes names many things and experiences "under the sun" in multiple ways, reducing it all to meaninglessness. The book Leading with Wisdom says that it is in conversation that ideas encounter true meaning. Ecclesiastes' narrator (narrating the ideas of Qohelet who is the one who reduces life to meaninglessness) would say that it is in confrontation with the divine in which meaning is found. "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone." (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
Ecclesiastes is not disregarding engaging with ideas and wrestling with the human experience. I think people should do this and consider its value. Hold loosely to your names and even truths, allowing yourself to be transformed by another's names and truths. However, a wise person can, at the end of the day, integrate this or confront this with the divine perspective. Without this perspective, everything is meaningless.