Is silence a virtue or is it a sign of weakness? The latest target of media and public opinion for remaining silent is India’s charismatic cricket team captain, M.S.Dhoni. This morning’s papers liken him to Indian Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh (the Indian media and wags, by the way, have nicknamed PM Singh, ‘Moun’mohan – ‘mouna’ meaning ‘silent’ in Sanskrit!) and brand him a weakling who has allowed himself to be gagged by the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) in the wake of the IPL (Indian Premier League) spot-fixing scandal.
The normal human tendency is to rush to speak, be heard, clarify, demand attention or defend – as the situation or context may warrant. So, when people choose to remain silent, either not making use of an opportunity to speak up or not responding to a provocation, the popular inference is that the person choosing silence is weak or has something to hide. Well, to be sure, it may mean neither. A perspective worth considering is, perhaps, the person has nothing to say or believes that being silent is an answer or sufficient response in itself or recognizes the futility in speaking at that point in time.
I have learned the value of remaining silent, over retorting, defending, clarifying or expressing, through experience. There was a time when I would rush to offer my point of view – either in defense or to justify – in all contexts. I used to imagine then that if something had to be said, it had better be expressed then and there, loud and clear. Over time though, I have learned to believe otherwise.
In fact, I now revere, and am inspired by my own father’s ability to choose silence as a response each time that he could have spoken. I remember, with a huge sense of shame, once, many years ago, when there was a raging issue in the family, my demanding to know from my dad whether he was spineless. My demand was uncouth, violent and unbecoming of a son. We sat in a hotel lobby (because we could not speak in private at his home) when I asked him the hugely provocative and embarrassing question: “Why are you not speaking up for what is right dad? Are you spineless?” My dad, much to my shock, and infuriating me no end, responded with a blank look on his face. He simply, yet again, said nothing, choosing to be silent. I came back from that meeting with my father disillusioned and angry. But today, perhaps wiser from learning from Life, I completely agree with my dad’s choice. I don’t think there could have been or can be a better response to situations that we are faced with as a family. And it is not just with my family or with a specific situation. In several situations in Life, remaining silent is perhaps the best response.
I am still learning this art though. And it isn’t always easy. I remember another instance where I could have remained silent but choose to express myself instead and that expression has led to a strained relationship and a continuous sense of angst among a few people connected with that episode. I wish now I had remained silent. Here’s what I have learned:
- We may do some things. And we may not do several others.
- Whatever be the course our lives take, based on decisions and choices we make, people will have opinions. They may cast aspersions on you. They may demand explanations. Or simply provoke you wantonly.
- Wherever you see no value being added with your expressing yourself, and of course when you think your speaking (up) will only confound the situation, it is best to remain silent.
- No matter what people say, remember, at the end of the day you have a job to do, a Life to live. And if you can avoid potential, wasteful conflicts by choosing to be silent, why not go about your Life and business silently?
Of course, sometimes speaking up becomes a necessity, not an option. And in all such cases, a conflict normally becomes unavoidable. But such conflict is constructive and never destructive. How then do you decide when to speak up and when to be silent? A good rule of thumb is to make the choice of remaining silent not so much to avoid conflict__but so that you don’t end up creating one!
Silence is a great force. Because silence always speaks when words can’t or when words fail! Being silent is an art that is worth learning, exploring and practicing. It will ultimately lead you to a great, unimpeachable inner peace.