Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Value of Silence

As a youth, I actually had little to say, but it didn't keep me from talking a lot. When I consider the difference between me now and me then, I often wonder that the friends who've known me the longest don't sometimes think I've been replaced by an alien double. Not that I'm shy or rude or taciturn. But when it really matters, I try to measure my words more carefully every year.

There are tons of adages that urge us to such behavior:

I've often seen signs that read, "Better to keep one's mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt."

My stepmother, not long after she came into my life, hung a plaque in my childhood kitchen that read, "A wise old owl, the less he spoke, the more he heard."

Early in my military career someone shared the sage advice that, "When in the presence of a superior officer, you should never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut."

But all the adages and anecdotes in the world pale next to experience.  And that's what's really made me quieter as I've aged--the simple truth that through the years I've far more often regretted what I did say than what I didn't.

Silence is a blank canvas that can be filled with beauty if we're careful enough when we choose our words, but the barbs that escape us before their time can never be called back, and sometimes, the damage they do can't be repaired.

After nearly 52 years, I think the best adage I've seen to express it is the epigraph with which Brian Turner opens his poem "Sadiq," and which I will use to close this post.  Peace y'all.

"It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more. -Sa'di