Last week I was travelling in the car with a loved one. She mentioned that her friends sometimes say to her, ‘your very quiet today.’ When I asked her why she was often thought of as quiet she answered ‘I have nothing to say.’ What I think she was articulating is that she was happy to be with her friends in a very real and physical manner but, that she didn’t feel the need to be in on every conversation, or to have a view on all conceivable subjects.
Such quietness can presumably be a virtue, and an act of love both for self and others, by providing self with a sense of peace, calm and space, others with the opportunity to consider and express their opinions. Opinions which may be more valid than our own (they may of course also be entirely trivial or unfounded).
Perhaps one of the issues in contemporary society, including the church, is the expectation that we have to say something, to have an opinion on all manner of issues even when the issue is not particularly important to us, or when we do not possess the experience, knowledge, insight or whatever, to make a substantive contribution.
I suspect that one of the problems with speaking too much is that we start to overestimate the value of our opinions (pride) and, in a very subtle way, box ourselves into a situation from which it becomes increasingly difficult to backtrack without appearing fickle.
Perhaps the Rule of Benedict can help us to consider the value of saying nothing. In Chapter Six of his rule (Cherishing Silence in the Monastery) Benedict writes:
‘In a monastery we ought to follow the advice of the psalm which says: I have resolved to keep watch over my ways so that I may not sin with my tongue………In this verse the psalmist shows that, because of the value of silence, there are times when we ought not to speak even though what we have in mind is good. How much more important it is to refrain from evil speech when we remember that sins bring us down in punishment. In fact, so important is it to cultivate silence, even about matters concerning sacred values that spiritual instruction, that permission to speak should only be granted rarely to monks and nuns, even though they have achieved a high standard of monastic obedience.’
In general terms am I speaking too much?
Do I feel obliged or pressurized into having an opinion on all sorts of issues that in reality are of little real interest to me?
If I am to make a contribution to a debate or discussion is my response well thought through (have I pondered in my heart like Mary, as well as in my head)?