GREAT SAGES FROM ALL AGES have been known
for their silence. "He who knows does not speak," said
Lao Tzu, "And he who speaks does not know."
Silence is golden. There might more wisdom
in this saying than most people have guessed. In experiments,
speaking raises blood pressure and listening lowers it. And it's
not just because you're making sounds. Reading aloud alone does
not raise blood pressure, but reading aloud to someone
Let's look at this for a minute. Let's
say you were committed to becoming calmer and more serene. With
that commitment, very soon you would realize that mostly listening
in the presence of others would help you be more serene. You
would notice that jumping in with your opinions definitely doesn't
help create tranquillity in yourself or others. Arguing politics
or religion can definitely destroy any calmness you may have
Nervous, pointless chitchat doesn't help
create calmness, either, but sometimes small talk does. You'll
have to pay attention to what's happening and most importantly,
you'll need to keep the goal in mind (becoming more tranquil).
What has been missing is the goal, not the ability. If you haven't
been aiming for tranquillity if you were aiming for persuasiveness
or being right, or trying to prove how smart you are you
would never discover why silence is golden.
Spouting opinions, arguing, trying to make
yourself right, reacting to things without having given it a
lot of thought, spewing memes
carelessly into the memosphere these do not bring peace.
They do not help you live in tranquillity.
I don't think once in 47 years I've ever
caused myself trouble or hurt someone's feelings with silence,
but I've done it with speaking hundreds or even thousands of
But there are several arguments one can
make against this general policy. For example, you have a lot
to teach which will be lost if you don't share it. Silence doesn't
seem very golden from this perspective.
But if your teachings aren't thought out,
even good information given in the wrong way or at the wrong
time or to the wrong person can create unnecessary problems.
The principle is not "never speak" but to be mostly
silent. And besides, isn't example also a good way to teach?
And if you are mostly silent, doesn't what you do say
get more respect?
Another argument against being mostly silent
is that you'll miss opportunities to straighten out people (especially
your children or your employees) if you only speak when you've
thought through what you want to say.
But after you've thought it out, your "straightening
out" will be much more effective, and you can do it at the
right time in the right way and while you're in the right state
(calm and peaceful and kindly).
How many times have you regretted saying
something without thinking first? Plenty. But can you think of
a single instance where you regretted thinking about something
Another argument is that opinions should
be changed if they're wrong.
Opinions are rarely changed by argument.
Sometimes they are changed by one good question, timed right
and delivered without self-righteousness. This requires time
to think things through, and a great deal of silence and a general
state of calmness. But for the most part, as much as we natural
arguers try to fool ourselves, studies show that even making
a good case for something almost never changes a person's mind
if they already believe something else.
Another objection is, "Won't people
think you're a dunce if you don't say much?"
Probably just the opposite. They're more
likely to think you're wiser, and if you're a good listener,
they'll think you must be very smart to listen to them with so
much interest and attention.
What if you listened a lot and offered
your opinion rarely? What would happen if you offered information
or advice only when people asked you for it? What if you
offered chitchat rarely, and did a lot of listening and observing
and thinking about things? It would be easier to maintain a deep calm. And you'd
No, I say unto you the wise are eager to
listen and think and hesitant to speak. Silence is golden.