The calm words of the wise are better heeded than the racket caused by a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one incompetent person destroys much good.

Ecclesiastes 9:17-18

“Name a person who exemplifies ‘poise?’ What are some of the characteristics that contribute to such an assessment?” The question made us scratch our heads and think, the good ones always do.

George H.W. and Barbara Bush

“Poise” has to do with grace, elegance, balance, and control. A related word, I suggested, could be “élan.” Elan moves poise into a spirited sense of flair, style, panache, dash, and confidence.

The conversation originated in the most excellent discussion my Wednesday men’s group is wrapping up around the ancient writings of Ecclesiastes. This week’s text contrasted the actions, words, and demeanor of the wise with that of the foolish. Goodness and wisdom go together in the same way that foolishness (what I like to call applied ignorance) is associated with evil – and the text offered some gems to drive home the idea.

Here’s a good one from Ecclesiastes 9:17 followed by another from 10:12-14

The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded
    than the shouts of a ruler of fools…

Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious,
    but fools are consumed by their own lips.
 At the beginning their words are folly;
    at the end they are wicked madness—
     and fools multiply words – No one knows what is coming—

Ecclesiastes 9-10

The first example of poise that came up was the late President George H.W. Bush. He was a consensus choice to illustrate the word. 

Poise, and the wisdom that poise comments on, both require an element that is seldom practiced in today’s reactive, dismissive, knee-jerk, volatile, sound-bite social and political climate. That element is reflection, but reflection only happens in response to time and thought and research and prayer.

Class is the evidence of applied grace:

Reflection, analysis, meditation, and a deep-dive into the various layers of any given issue, these are all requisite components of wisdom and poise. You can’t demonstrate poise unless you are prepared. Yes, some people may have a natural or built-in tendency toward grace, but almost any one of us can apply ourselves to the practice of kindness, reserve, decency, competence, graciousness and more until it is second nature to respond in a way that it is impossible to perceive any other way than, “He/she has a lot of class.”

“Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips…”

Ecclesiastes

It’s an amazing image, isn’t it? What a visual! Someone, anyone – “the shouts of a ruler of fools” – literally consuming their own face with their own lips…

This association between evil (that which stands in opposition to goodness) and foolishness (the polar opposite of wisdom) is hard to miss in our world today. Here in America we are being seduced by the notion that putting ourselves first is good for us. But the scriptures teach that goodness is a necessary component of wisdom, and they go on to teach that God has already – and repeatedly – shown us what is good. Goodness – ergo wisdom – is to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk with humility in the presence of God (Micah 6:8).

Poise. Poise turns out to be the evidence of God’s transformative presence in our lives, both as individuals and as communities. Poise has to do with grace, elegance, balance, and control. Now, to live out our poise with élan… now that would certainly be a compelling witness to God’s grace and purpose!

Journeying onward to Christmas – DEREK

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