Keep Mum (throw out Dad). The Virtues of Silence
This may seem like a bit of a stretch for world history. But the categories of WH are so ridiculously wide, and history itself is in the process of being opened up, butterflied like a shrimp, that we can, I think, insert many things here. Consider this some light entertainment.
Nothing is so good for an ignorant man as silence; and if he was sensible of this he would not be ignorant. (Saadi)
This might just be my impression, but mothers tend to hold their tongues better than fathers. Of course, there are some fathers out there who are quiet, non-verbal types, but your father’s tendency to yakety-yak can sometimes get him into trouble. The antidote? Don’t talk too much. It is also the simplest. In fact it is beautiful in its simplicity: If you don’t speak, you can’t say anything dumb. “Ah,” I hear you saying, predictably (remember–don’t speak!), “But if I don’t say anything how can I appear intelligent? Huh? The answer is: Easily.
The less you say (if you are, in fact, not highly intelligent) the better. A person who talks a lot is likely to run the risk sooner or later, of saying something dumb. This is simply the law of averages: the more you utter, the greater the likelihood of making a gaff. Who ever heard of someone referred to as stupid simply for being taciturn? No, (although I suspect some people use epithets such as “slow waters run deep” to cover up the suspicion that the person in question is less than a genius). Perhaps Mark Twain put it most elegantly when he said, “Drawing on my fine command of language, I said nothing.”
Let me give you an analogy to make it clearer. If you eat oysters, you run a distinct risk of coming across a bad one. And a bad oyster is an experience you do not want to have. So, in order to reduce your risk of experiencing a bad oyster, don’t eat them! This does not mean that all oysters are bad. It’s just that some are, and so to absolutely avoid finding those bad ones, avoid them altogether. This is simple logic, and it’s quite an effective weapon in one’s armory of smart bombs. In fact this kind of logic can traditionally be found among the older generations, especially women. Of the older generations, women tended to have their minds less cluttered with the paraphernalia of intelligence—education and professionalism. They were free, therefore, to rely on good, sound, native intelligence, instead of book learning and posturing. Your grandmother, I bet, would feel quite at home with the oyster analogy (although she probably wouldn’t need it because she would get the point about silence right away. However, grandmothers have the habit sometimes of forgetting this principle and slipping into manly blabbering habits—that is the fault of age, not gender).
But apart from the statistical likelihood of uttering an idiocy, it is also apparent to me—and I daresay a few others—that the problem of garrulousness is directly related to a deficit of brain power, or at least it is perceived as such. How is this so? People who talk too much often do so because they do not know what to say in certain situations, or because they consider the prospect of silence, no matter how short, horrific, and therefore feel they have to fill it with whatever comes to mind in the second. They may even have so little confidence that they think their silence will be perceived as a permanent state of catatonia (not to be confused with the state of California—that’s further west). Therefore their fear of silence prods them to the utterance of absolute gibberish, which it does not take a genius to notice.
Beyond the need to hide any latent idiocy, silence has been promoted for centuries as both a life preserver and in some instances a hair tonic (too much talking apparently can lead to premature aging and hair loss, connected as it presumably is to nervousness). But it also has a deep spiritual power that is readily apparent, especially to the Eastern religions which generally venerate the concept of meditation. The Quakers are also aware of this, and that is why in Quaker meetings you are apt to sit in absolute silence for an uncomfortable period of time (clearly I’m not a Quaker, or I would not find this silence uncomfortable). T.S. Eliot was also a (Catholic) believer in the spiritual power of silence, and believed that it is in silence that one can hear the voice of God, and ultimately, one can be transfigured. In the Buddhist tradition, conversation is seen as just another earthly distraction from the ultimate goal of spiritual enlightenment.
“Under all speech that is good for anything,” Thomas Carlyle wrote, sounding remarkably like a Buddhist, in fact, “there is a silence that is better. Silence is deep as eternity; speech is shallow as time.”
I think that is enough said on this subject; whether you are a Quaker in search of God, a Yogi awaiting enlightenment, or simply a logical individual who wants to avoid appearing idiotic, one should pay homage to the God of Silence, and as often as possible break bread on her alter, offer a libation, or practice the art. Trust me, we’ll all be the better for it.