As with many proverbs, it is difficult to trace the origin. One of the first appearances of this phrase in the English language was Thomas Carlisle, translating Sartor Resartus from German to English. In this translation, a character expounds on the virtues of silence and uses the phrase “speech is silver; silence is golden.”
For me, silence is more of a learned virtue than a natural one. I enjoy talking. Sometimes too much. Recently, silence has been a prominent theme among the people I listen to and the things I have read. I recognize it is something the Holy Spirit is bringing to my attention. This morning, before writing this, I spent two hours in silence. There are things I need from the silence.
There are some things I am learning and some things I am trying to practice. For my 5 Thursday Thoughts, here are five times when I think it is wise to practice being quiet.
When You Are Unsure
I am a person of action. I don’t have to be completely sure about a situation to move forward. There are times when I do not have a clear answer. I am not sure what I need to be doing at that moment. Our culture has made us feel like we must have an instant answer for everything. Ryan Holiday says that despair and restlessness go together. There are times when we need just to be quiet until we can have the certainty to move forward. Silence can give you the clarification that noise never will.
When You Are Tired
Clarity is difficult to find when we are tired. If our brain is tired, our words will not have the clarity they need. In The Odyssey, Homer says, “There is a time for many words, and there is a time for sleep.” Dangerous mistakes are made by the exhausted. Avoid the crisis of exhaustion and be still.
When You Are Angry
One of the most dangerous times to speak is when we are angry. We have all had the experience of saying something in anger that we regret. Sometimes anger is fleeting, and just a few moments of silence allow the situation to pass. Other times the frustration is more pronounced, and we need a longer period of silence before responding. Silence in the moment does not mean we never address the situation. Silence allows us to speak from a place of thought and wisdom and not a place of emotion that can do more harm than good.
When You Need To Be Present
Being present in the moment may be one of the hardest things to do in the world. Not just for people who struggle with attention issues, but for everyone. Just because we are not distracted easily does not make us present. Sometimes what we call being present is waiting our turn to talk. We want what we have to say to be heard, accepted, and met with an actionable response. Tolstoy observed that “Love can't exist off in the future. Love is only real if it's happening right now.” Silence gives us a better chance at being present. We are there for the moment, not for our moment.
When You Need Direction
I have moments in my life when I need to determine what is next or make a choice in a particular situation. I experience this in my family, my church, my business, and my personal life. Knowing what to do and when to do it are keys to success. Too often, we allow the busyness of life to crowd in, and we have no time to contemplate the next move. We are always living reactionary instead of visionary. Silence allows me to perceive more clearly what the next step is.
When we know what to say no to, we can say yes to the things that matter. Quietness will bring more clarity to your life and the no’s will be easier, and the yes’s will be more effective. Don’t mistake silence for ignorance. Sometimes it is the wisest course of action.