Maybe this article should be titled “Speaking with Purpose,” because that’s really what it’s about. In a time when everyone has an opinion about everything and when it’s acceptable to say whatever comes to mind, perhaps it is good to be reminded that sometimes it is better to simply keep quiet. Not every thought needs to be voiced, not every opinion declared. I’m all for open dialogue, especially as a means for discerning truth. It is important, however, that all discussion be exercised with wisdom. As such it is sometimes better to say nothing at all. There are two cases that come immediately to mind where silence is the better part of valor.
The first instance is in those cases where you want to speak your opinion on an issue where you are only partially informed. It may be that you have a strong opinion on the topic and feel obligated to spout your feelings, however much or little they may be grounded on actual facts. While this may help facilitate the discussion (or argument, as chance may have it), it often leaves you looking the part of the fool, since it becomes immediately clear that you have little idea what you are talking about. This can work out for the good on occasion, particularly if you are open to correction.
The second instance is typically a much more difficult one in which to keep quiet. This one occurs when someone else in the discussion falls into the first instance, i.e. they obviously have little knowledge on the subject and aren’t afraid to display their ignorance. Sometimes, it is beneficial to speak up and offer correction and instruction to this individual (or individuals, as the case may be). Sometimes, though, the only good thing to do is to keep silent and possibly even withdraw from the discussion itself because it is apparent that even in speaking correction, no one will be listening and so the effort will be wasted.
In all things said and done, it is important to think about what that action will contribute to the dialogue. I often find myself wishing to speak up and contribute an alternative viewpoint and snippet of information that is unknown or being overlooked, but I try, as well, to think about what effect my contribution will have on the discussion. Will it matter? Will anyone listen? Is anyone willing to learn something they didn’t know before and consider it before accepting or rejecting it? Will my attempt at speaking truth be recognized or ignored? In those cases where I know I will ultimately only be ignored, or listened to only enough to be argued with, I find it behooves me to simply hold my tongue and bow gracefully out of the conversation. I mean, what’s the point of continuing in a discussion where all the other participants continue only so they can keep arguing? It does make me sad to leave such people in their ignorance, but by the same token, I know that even offering what little wisdom I have will make no difference, either in the lives of the other participants or in the conversation in which they partake.
Sometimes, however much discipline is required to maintain it, silence really is best.