Christian musician Glenn Kaiser wrote a memorable blues song about “Self-Control” that includes these lyrics: “It’s the thing I lack most and it puts me in a bind / The wise possess it, it brings them peace of mind / Down in my soul, I need self-control / Without it my mouth says terrible things / Without it my hands work selfishness . . . Down in our soul, we need self-control.”
It takes self-control to resist provocation by a fool (v. 3; cf. Prov. 26:4–5). If we answer seriously, we give too much weight to their words. But if we respond angrily or scornfully, we’ve sunk to their level. That’s why this proverb pictures the decision as a heavy burden. Its parallelism compares the physical burden of sand or stone to the emotional and spiritual burden of answering a fool.
Parallelism can also make its point via reversed expectations. An example is, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (v. 6; cf. v. 17). To match negative with positive, and vice versa, makes us stop and think. We realize things may not be as they appear. It depends on the identity of the giver. Something that feels like a wound, if from a friend, is ultimately for our good and can be trusted; but kisses, if from an enemy, should be doubted.
Another way parallelism can work is by developing in unexpected or surprising directions. Verse 21, for example, begins with a picture we’ve seen before, that of a blazing furnace for refining precious metals. So we expect it will be about something that is painful but has a positive result—and indeed, it’s about testing. The surprise is the content of the test, something pleasant. This spurs reflection, upon which we realize that praise from others is indeed a test of character and a temptation to pride.