For a long time, when considering this proverb, I pictured a beautiful young woman who was loud, boisterous and scantily dressed. I thought the meaning of this verse was that all that beauty was wasted on a person who flaunts it so much that she makes it appear ridiculous. It would be like owning a fur coat and then wearing it everywhere you go – to ballgames, to the gym, to pump gas; it is taking a thing of beauty and making it appear worthless from overexposure.
Then I looked up the word “discretion” in the dictionary and discovered that whereas it could possibly be construed to address modest behavior, the true definition is “cautious behavior.” A discreet person is one who weighs carefully what she says and does – a person who does not act rashly. An additional definition is being able to keep a secret when needed.
Back in Solomon’s day, it was not uncommon for beautiful women to wear rings in their noses (and it didn’t have the connotations of a ring in the nose today). Picture a beautifully adorned woman in fine, flowing, wispy silk robes with ornate dangling earrings and a gold ring in her nose. She’s the fashion icon of the sixth century B.C. She causes chariot wrecks as she crosses the street!
Now Solomon knows her well, so she doesn’t have the same effect on him. He says that in all this beauty, the only thing of redeeming value he sees is the gold ring in her nose. Aside from that ring, he sees only swine when he contemplates this woman because she has no discretion. She acts rashly; she does whatever occurs to her without considering the consequences. She acts on impulse, emotion and physical sensation. This, in Solomon’s eyes, makes her no better than an animal – and not just any animal, but one that wallows in the mud.
And indeed, discretion is one of the things that separates us from the animals.
I have a dog that sleeps inside the house. He is good buddies with neighboring dogs that sleep outside. Quite often, something exciting (to a dog) will happen in the middle of the night, like an armadillo spotting, and the neighboring dogs outside will go crazy. This wakes my inside dog and, with absolutely no consideration whatsoever for the sleeping people in the house, he will start to bark and whimper and prance around to be let outside. It’s a hunt! I’ve got to go! He gives no thought to who he is impacting with his impulsiveness.
A person, on the other hand, is endowed with the ability to apply abstract thought to a situation and think beyond what she feels and wants. She is able to consider how what she wants and intends to do will impact others. We have the ability. But, we must opt to engage this ability.
A discreet woman has her abstract cognition switch always in the “engaged” position. A discreet woman, even in chaotic and rushed circumstances, can quickly go through the mental exercise of imagining how what she says and does will impact other people. And a discreet and wise woman will choose to say and do those things that ultimately will have a positive impact on other people.
Regardless of what you’re wearing, that’s true beauty.Hold this thought: Outer beauty is no good without inner beauty. Donna Lee Schillinger is editor of the recent anthology Purity’s Big Payoff/Premarital Sex is a Big Rip-off, winner of the 2012 Christian Small Publisher’s Book of the Year. In 2008 she founded On My Own Now Ministries to encourage faith, wise life choices and Christ-likeness in young adults. On My Own Now publishes the free, monthly online magazines, Single! Young Christian Woman and Genuine Motivation: Young Christian Man.