A very wise man—my late father-in-law—was known to say, “He who talks often is seldom heard.”
He also used to ask, “Is all that talking really necessary?”
For someone to whom words are a profession, a hobby, a love, even half a moniker, this Word Nymph has been thinking a lot about silence.
Perhaps it’s the time of year, or the signs appearing before me in recent days. The Sounds of Silence playing on the radio. References to the evils of loquaciousness in my daily horoscope. A favorite hymn in church yesterday, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, stirred me to wordlessness. Message from the universe: Shut yer yap.
In my faith tradition, the upcoming season of Advent is much ado about silence. Many kick off the season with a silent retreat, followed by three weeks of quiet reflection, listening, expectation, focus outside oneself. Regardless of our traditions, this isn’t a bad discipline to follow.
Modern humans have spurred a society that abhors dead air and assaults it with voices. While others speak we are already thinking of what we will say next—and, ever impatient, we interrupt them mid-sentence with our treasured views. As a child whose report cards often reported that “Monica talks too much in class,” I plead talkative as charged.
Modern media have ignited an explosion of expression. Talk radio, talking heads, talk-talk-talk. Tap-tap-tap a 2,500-word Christmas letter and a 750-word status update.
It seems a good time to undertake a new social discipline. While word count is a key metric in my work as an editor, it never occurred to me that I could put it to use elsewhere. What if I followed the Twitter theory and kept my utterances to fewer than 140 characters?
As an experiment, I pledge to do my best for the rest of this year to use my words more judiciously. To the best of my ability I will:
- Listen first, speak second. After all, there’s a reason we were given two ears and only one mouth.
- Not feel compelled to fill silence with talking. Silence can create an opening to ideas, energy and more thoughtful words–while excessive talking can suck the energy out of the room and everyone in it.
- Not overestimate others’ interest in what I have to say. That story, that memory, that dream I find so fascinating? Others, not so much.
- Not consume more than my share of the airwaves, leaving plenty open for others.
- Begin fewer sentences with I and My.
Join me, won’t you?
One final comment: Some of the most stirring renditions of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence are the ones without lyrics.
Word Count: 439 (still too many)