Right from the time we begin to speak and understand, our worlds are filled with words. We read, we write, we speak, we interrupt, and our brains brim up with words and sounds. In this month’s Words of Wisdom, we will look at what some great minds said about the golden gift of silence.
Mark Twain said, ‘It’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than open it and remove all doubt.’ That doesn’t mean that we should never speak, of course; it just means that in general, wise people speak less and prefer to listen more, whereas the foolish find the need to always be talking about something. In Bertrand Russell’s words, ‘The problem with the world is that fools are cocksure and the wise are full of doubt.’
Silence as an antidote to judging
The ideas of right and wrong are human constructs. In nature, there is no right and wrong. Morality and justice are pillars that we have erected, so that we can hang our fellow beings by them. But instead, perhaps if we could practice silence of mind and judgement, we can feel at one with the world, and a certain calmness will enter our daily lives. That way, we can meet people as people, flawed as we are, without baggage of crime and punishment. In the words of Rumi: Out beyond the ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.
Silence as a practice
We live in a world where we’re constantly bombarded with sounds. And not all sounds need to be physical in nature. Many of them are mental, psychological sounds, which come from varied places. Pressures at work, pressure at home, stress due to family issues, and the expectation to be ‘switched on’ at all times have taken away our mental silences. These days, our minds are working even when we’re asleep. So if we can practice silence as a daily practice, in the form of meditation or reading or engaging in a hobby, we can get in touch with our inner voices again.
As T. S. Eliot said, ‘I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing.’
Silence as a form of bonding
We think of social interactions and bonding as functions of speech: a joke well told, a laughter shared, a song sung together. But sharing a profound silence with another person is a great way to understanding their true inner natures. Don’t believe us? Schedule a ten-minute ‘silent session’ with your significant other, during which you’re not allowed to speak to each other. Engage in a lot eye contact. Breathe together. Hold hands. Smile a lot. After such a session, ask yourself if you don’t feel closer to the person, as if your bond has been renewed. This is because shared silence is a great synchroniser of souls.
‘He who does not understand your silence will not understand your words.’ – Elbert Hubbard
Silence as a show of strength
Whenever there is an argument or conflict, you will be expected to jump into the fray with fists blazing, ready for a fight. They will goad you to say things you don’t mean and will regret later. They will expect motion, defence, offence, speech. But there is great strength in silence. When all your nerves are willing you to shout out the vilest things, if you can hold your silence, you will preserve your dignity. Words said in anger are better not said at all.
As Euripides said all those years ago, ‘Silence is true wisdom’s best reply.’