The Wisdom of Silence

The Wisdom of Silence - on learning to be quiet rather than compete or harm with our words - Fiona Lynne Koefoed-Jespersen

I’ve been noticing a bad habit of mine recently. I wonder if it’s one any of you share? My bad habit is that I tend to talk too much. Yes, I’m a chatty person but that’s not exactly what I’m thinking of.

Have you ever been in one of those group situations where you suddenly realise the conversation has somehow become a battle of one-upmanship?

Instead of it being an interaction of opinions and stories and ideas, it becomes a competition. Who has the best story to tell? Whose situation was absolutely the worst you’ll have heard of? Who has been to an even further and cooler place? Who certainly has a better and fuller knowledge of the subject at hand?

I hate this kind of conversation. And yet I’ve noticed recently that I let myself get involved in them. And not in an innocent way – I recognise exactly what tone this conversation has started to take and I think “Oh man, they’re going to wish they didn’t start with me. I can play this game better”. And I spend the next fifteen minutes trying to take the other person down a peg or two by proving that no, actually, I am more intelligent, I am more experienced, I have the best story to tell. (All of course in the sweetest and most innocent tone of voice).

Eeesh. I get home and feel like a bad smell has walked in the door with me. Why do I do this? I imagine it might have something to do with the relative lack of conversation I get these days, so that every chance I have to speak it’s like every story and experience I have ever had just needs to be shared now now now.

But that’s a poor excuse for arrogance.

So today I am resolving anew to be better at shutting up. To be better at acknowledging and enjoying other people’s stories for what they are without feeling the need to show I’m just as significant as they are. To recognise when conversations take a competitive turn and chose to step out rather than engage. To be quick to listen and slow to talk.

Micha Boyett has been doing a series on practising St. Benedict’s Rule, and had this to say about being quiet:

When St. Benedict formed his monastic community, he knew the danger of speech, how quickly we can break another down, how quickly a word from another can be planted in the deep places of our hearts and stay there to torment us for a lifetime. If we want to live lives of kindness and encouragement, we are wise to quiet down.

Maybe in cultivating my own silence I can be a better listener, allow someone else to feel heard and understood, and guard against words that could tear down instead of building up. Maybe part of being brave is having the courage to stop talking and trust that I don’t need to argue my worth to other people. That my value is intrinsic, not proved with clever words and silly stories.

And maybe by talking less, the words I use will have more meaning.