Instead, take a look at our verse. To get at its implications, we need to think about it in layers.
The first layer is the obvious one: choose not to be the kind of person who curses your father and mother. This is an act of the will, either in avoidance of being that person or in choosing to be that person. Keep in mind as you consider this that we cut a much deeper division in the modern era between words and actions than is in view in Proverbs. Speaking a curse on your father would be naturally followed by behavior of ill-will.
The second layer is close to obvious: note that the father is cursed but the mother is simply not blessed. Mothers, especially in a culture with a home-centered economy, sacrifice in ways that are incomprehensible to non-mothers. It is incumbent on children to recognize how their mother sacrificed to teach them, protect them, and guide them and bless their mothers for it.
The third layer digs a little deeper. Fathers and mothers represent our ancestors. We are not, not, NOT to worship our ancestors. However, we can speak respectfully of what they have done—assuming it is respectable. And considering that your ancestors did not jump off a bridge before ancestoring you, that’s a start, right? While your great-grandpappy may have been a grumpy old moonshiner, you can just move on and not worry about him, or find something positive. But don’t go about rubbishing the old man. He was doing the best he could.
This is especially true for many of us who find some heavy-duty nuts up the family tree. We so readily see their faults that we forget the education systems and cultural pressures of their times. We assume we would know and do better, but if you were locked in low education poverty in the 1800s, you might have been just as backwards.
The fourth layer is right under that layer. Not only our ancestors but our predecessors, those outside of our family tree but part of our heritage. Maybe it’s a church predecessor. Maybe our governing forefathers. We see much better now, but we do not have to be disrespectful of their blindness. It may not have been blindness but dim light.
What, then, do we do?
There is the classic advice of “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.” That’s valuable, especially about those whose behavior cannot be changed. Let it go. Apologize if necessary but you can admit fault without disparaging individuals.
There is also this: seek the good. And if you can find none, then let the cycle stop. Be worth blessing to those who follow after you.