“A gentle answer turns anger away.” Proverbs 15:1
The late Don Knight is one of my favorite actors.
Whether in The Big Valley, Hawaii Five-0, The Apple Dumpling Gang, or The Virginian, between his heavy English accent (which managed to make all of his menacing lines more menacing), his thick blond hair, and his slim, sinewy build, he was a very convincing “bad guy.” In fact, I’m not sure I can name one role I’ve seen in which he clearly was a “good guy.”
I became even more fascinated by this actor in the early days of the Internet, when I read that he was an ordained minister, serving churches while also working as an actor.
On Saturday I was scrolling through our list of recorded episodes of The Virginian. The one titled “The Mustangers” (1968) listed Knight as a guest star. So, of course, I watched that one right away. Horse thief and maybe a killer – yes, this was another of his “bad guy” roles, for sure. But I choose to fantasize that it was the man of the cloth, and not the character Cal Hobson, coming through in some of his lines. He has words with a man whose goals don’t mesh with his. The exchange is an admirable example of a confrontation that isn’t violent and isn’t even an argument, when you get right down to it. (And herein I rest my case that Saddle Up Saturday on INSP TV can be a worthy lead-in to the Lord’s day.)
“Someday,” ‘Hobson’ warns, “I’m goin’ t’ take exception t’ your remarks.” (Hear the rolled R’s and the ah instead of ar in “remarks.” And recall the same voice saying on Hawaii Five-0, “I was hired by the defendant, Honoré Vashon.” Oh, goodness; I love this guy!) But, back to The Virginian. The other man replies, “Now, you do that. And while you’re thinkin’ about it, why don’t you ride out of here?”
There is no question that these two men don’t see eye to eye. There is no missing the warning and even the threat in their statements. And yet, both men are exercising restraint. They are saying, “I am tempted to fight you, but I’m not going to. It will be better for both of us if we avoid the next ‘logical’ step in our disagreement.” [These fellows should have ridden their horses on over to the set of The Big Valley and shared advice with Nick Barkley; he got into way too many fights because he didn’t exercise enough restraint!]
Later in the same episode of The Virginian, Don Knight’s character backs down from a fight with a different guy, even after being struck across the face. He gets up from the dusty ground and says, “Okay. All right. I know how you feel. You’ve got to strike out at somebody. But it doesn’t change anything, and you know it.” This TV western character’s actions personify today’s scripture selection, Proverbs 15:1, shown at the top of this page. Most of us have a really difficult time walking away, diffusing a volatile situation, “biting our tongues,” not insisting on having the last word, not “needing” the so-called satisfaction of being proved “right.”
A gentle answer does turn anger away. The one who overlooks an offense is wise.* If not, scripture wouldn’t say so. I’ve seen the truth of these verses most frequently in marriage, and when having to “referee” children’s spats. Is it marriage, or sibling interaction, or with an aging parent who seems unable to be reasoned with, or at work, or with an uncooperative neighbor, where you can walk in the way God has commanded, being the one to zip your lips and exit before a conflict turns unpleasant, ugly, or even violent? Notice how Knight’s lines quoted in my previous paragraph demonstrate going a step beyond self-control – honestly empathizing with and trying to be of help to the aggressor.