There’s magic in silence, in being quiet. It’s a reservoir of great power, beauty, and creativity. But we talk so much. We think so much. Our lives are so cluttered with noise. It’s underrated, silence, and as culture we drastically underestimate its power, mystique, and intrigue.
Plato once wrote, “A wise person speaks because he or she has something to say, a fool speaks because he or she has to say something.” How often do we speak because we just have to say something, because we’re just not comfortable with silence?
What if we tried an experiment, that just for a day we only spoke when we had something to say, rather than speaking just for the sake of speaking?
We exist in a culture of entitlement: “I’m entitled to my opinion and I have the right to express it however I want.” No one will argue with that.
But while expressing ourselves in this way might strengthen our egos by making us feel important, special, or intelligent, in the end, it actually diminishes our power to a great degree.
This same thing could be said for social media. How often do we post things, reply to and argue in comment threads we really have no business being in, or post our meals on Instagram, just to feed our insatiable desire to say something?
And no, there’s nothing wrong with any of that, and no one should try to make a value judgment on what’s worth posting and what isn’t. It’s not that we should never speak out about injustice or share videos of cats being crazy. It’s about valuing what we say.
But the truth is, it matters. It matters what we say, how we say it and why we’re saying it. We’re learning that we need to be particular about our friends because we realize that they have a great deal of influence on who we are and where we’re going. We’re learning to be minimalist with our material possessions, and experiencing the lightness and freedom that come with it. Why not try to be minimalist with our words? Why not speak about what truly matters to us and is relevant to another?
There’s tremendous dignity in silence, in choosing one’s words consciously. An individual who values his or her words, values him or herself. And it’s a curious thing that once we begin to value ourselves, suddenly the whole world values us.
The uncomfortable truth is that many of us, we’re addicted. We’re addicted to having our egos validated, to adding our two cents even if it’s unwarranted. We’re addicted in the sense that we have to fill the space with something, anything. The result is that we lose the power of the spoken word, we lose touch with ourselves and what’s truly important to us.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with being seen on social media or expressing our opinion freely, but there’s infinitely more to us as human beings than the fickle rewards of external validation and recognition. And as soon as external validation has become the driving force for our sense of self and well-being, then we’ll find ourselves in a never-ending struggle. It sucks. It’s awful. We never feel good enough.
But maybe we’re addicted because we never took the time to discover that there is immense power in silence, in being a little bit more reserved. Perhaps we could outgrow the addiction if we whole heartedly knew that it was robbing us of something truly great and powerful.
How many times have we opened our mouths only to later insert our foot in it or to have what we said come back on us ten times worse? But when we speak and it’s coming from our depth, not just from impulse, our words have much more power. People subconsciously trust us and value what we’re saying because they sense the truth and power behind it. Truly powerful people have known about this secret for ages.
If you’ve ever noticed, anyone with any true strength, conviction, or authority never needs to prove it either verbally or nonverbally.
That’s why you’ll find the most genuinely authentic and powerful people tend to be on the reserved side. They tend to radiate a calm, quiet confidence. That’s why, in Native American culture, the chief would rarely speak.
Silence is also a great source of creativity, as many artists and scientists have discovered. As any actor knows, oftentimes it’s the pauses between and after the lines that carry the most power and gravitas. But it takes time to get accustomed to pausing, to being silent because we’re not used to it. The same goes for thinking. We assume it’s our thoughts that are the most important, but what about the space between thoughts, or when we aren’t thinking?
Silence is also where answers to problems find us, rather than trying to force ourselves to find an answer. That’s why Einstein, when feeling stuck while working on a difficult problem, would often start playing the violin – it gave his mind the space and silence that allowed solutions to come to it.
There’s a very practical aspect as well:
When you’re deeply listening rather than talking, you’re much more acutely aware and in tune with the reality of a situation rather than your projection of it.
You’re also much more likely to spontaneously respond with right action rather than totally misinterpreting it.
In dating and marriage, the saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” We all know what happens when we unreservedly give every ounce of ourselves to another human being – usually a disastrous mess. Besides, who on Earth wants every ounce of another human being? It’s too much.
Silence and mystery are intriguing and attractive. And there is no declaration of relationships that says you must disclose and share every little detail about yourself to another human being. Yes, some familiarity is unavoidable and actually very necessary to a healthy relationship. And of course, you share what matters. But keeping romance alive has a lot to do with always playfully keeping the other on his or her toes. What’s unknown to us is exciting and challenging.
But there’s also a great intimacy in silence, like when you look up in the stars on a clear night and feel a deep sense of awe. Or when you gaze into the eyes of your lover, or your dog, and see the playful innocence of the universe looking back at you.
Understand that it’s our presence that really speaks for itself, before the words even leave our mouths.
And if our presence doesn’t work, then our words usually don’t either. And that’s why often it’s where we are speaking from rather than what we are speaking that is actually important.
Let me be clear: it’s not about being a quiet person, but rather being conscious about what it is that we speak and why we are speaking it.
This power is always available to us, but the question is, are we willing to be available to it? All that it asks from us is a little bit of receptivity, a little bit of humility. If we’re willing to listen, then we’ll inevitably stumble upon a timeless discovery for ourselves—that, sometimes, silence is golden.