Speak Only if You Can Improve Upon the Silence*
Quentin Schultze, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Calvin University
Author, An Essential Guide to Public Speaking: Serving Your Audience with Faith, Skill, and Virtue 2nd Edition
The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered (Proverbs 17:27)
Yale University graduate Greg Hindy set out on a coast-to-coast silent walking trip with camera in hand. Psychologist Carl Hindy supported his son’s mission. “Most of us are identity adopters,” he said, “but Greg is an identity former.” Critics called it a gimmick. Hindy a “modern-day Forrest Gump.”
Silence is often viewed negatively as a weakness, an absence, even a weapon. Yet silence also carries deep meaning and constructive power. Monks take vows of silence. Why? Is silence better than speech? Is there anything fundamentally wrong with speech?
When busily talking, we can’t get to know others’ hopes and fears. We can’t love them because we fail to truly know and serve them. Mutual listening is foreplay for intimate relationships where we learn to caress others in our minds and hearts. To inch toward being one with them.
Perhaps silence isn’t as empty as we think. Maybe it speaks as a mysterious heart language that helps us hear our own thoughts. Who am I? Whose am I? Maybe we fear silence because we fear ourselves?
What if silence is always important because someone has already spoken, long or shortly before we open our mouths and move our lips? The Creator of the universe “speaks” through the creation. Could we even identify let alone understand that “speech” if we are noisy rather than silent?
Strange possibility: in high-tech societies we are becoming media-rich and relationship-poor. We are noise-oppressed. Silence-deprived. Love-challenged. Spiritually shallow beings in a darkening sea with rising tides. Do the words “I love you” mean much today?
We may not follow Greg Hindy’s lead, but perhaps we can learn from the monastics how to regain the love in silence, to speak only if we can improve upon the silence. Maybe such silence equips us for tasting heaven on earth, with open hearts to hear beyond our own words.
Reflection: Does my speaking improve the silence? What would others say? Am I aware of my motivations when speaking?
Today’s challenge: take a vow of silence for one hour, half or full day. Choose to speak only when you can improve the silence. Take notes.
* This devotional is included in a book of 365 devotionals on Christianity and Communication Studies, forthcoming, from Integratio Press. All Rights Reserved. If you are interested in contributing a similar devotional, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org