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"Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence."

~Leonardo da Vinci

A few years ago, I started learning about virtues which Ben Franklin tried to develop in himself to live by, and one of those virtues was silence. On the virtue of silence Franklin said: “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.” The past two weeks I’ve found myself thinking quite a bit about Franklin’s thoughts on the value of silence because for the first time ever in my life I’ve finally taken the plunge into the social media world.

I’m just learning (yes believe it or not!) how to have a business presence on Instagram, and I’ve discovered that regardless of the value or importance of what you post, it’s more important to just post something every single day. That got me to wondering what Franklin would think if he were alive today to see how much humans have started to maintain nonstop chatter from our tweets and likes and other social media posts, to the non-stop scrolling we do with our faces in our phones rather than engaging with the people around us. It seems that today having something to say, or seeing what others have had to say, seems more important than saying nothing at all.

Sadly, so much of what is said in our world today comes not as a benefit to others but at the expense of others. It is very apparent that human etiquette, kindness, and professionalism have not kept pace with changes in technology and our never-ending chatter. Today it is common to spend time denigrating other people, other political parties, other nationalities, catastrophizing, inciting fear, and often intentionally manipulating the emotions of a less discerning public solely to build power, sell products, gain followers, strengthen constituencies, or advance agendas.

So much of our time now is spent making comments through texts, emails, and online posts. We’ve also found other ways to make statements through our symbols, flags, bumper stickers, letters to the editor in local newspapers, signs on our lawns, banners on our homes, and even with t-shirts that we wear. Quality assurance and professional standards seem to have gone by the wayside in the age of self-publishing, self-posting, tweeting, blogging, and podcasting. When we’re not expressing ourselves and speaking through all these means and modalities, we are busy checking our phones to see if anyone liked what we’ve posted, replied to our messages, or what we may be missing that someone else had to say. “Fear of Missing Out” or “FOMO” is now a regularly reported concern that has chipped away at confidence and self-esteem.

When I was growing up my father used to say that God gave me two ears and only one mouth and that I should use them in that proportion, meaning it was best to listen twice as much as I spoke. He also told me that you could tell quite a bit about a person by listening to the words they chose to use, particularly if they used profanity or vulgarity in their speaking. While my father wasn’t the best example in this way privately at home, he was always very careful with his words when out in public.

Over the decades since those early lessons in my life, I’ve seen our public speaking deteriorate to the point that coarse joking, vulgarity and profanity is common during what was traditional the “family viewing hours” on television and movie ratings have softened to allow more objectionable content for younger audiences. Our national leaders including celebrities, politicians, and even church leaders can now be heard using profane and otherwise offensive speech.

I used to think about my father’s words on listening twice as much as I spoke quite a bit growing up and I’m sure it contributed to my habit of being far more silent in group settings than always having to have something to say. Even in all my positions of leadership over the years in various settings I always chose to listen first before speaking or making decisions. I have come to realize that when I am frequently the person with the least to say in a group, that when I do choose to speak, people seem to pay more attention to my words.

I believe if my father were alive today, he would be appalled at how much humanity speaks and the divisive nature in which it does, and I think if Ben Franklin were alive today, he would be concerned for where humanity could be headed in the future. I really haven’t given much thought to all this before reading about Franklin’s virtue of silence he tried to live by. In reading about his influence in the world at the time, it is very apparent he was mindful at the timing, choice, quality, and quantity of his words, whether they were written or spoken.

In my own life, I have often found that silence and inner reflection has often resulted in some of my most transformative moments or true turning points in my life. For me, silence has not been just merely the absence of noise; but rather a space I’ve consciously created for myself. It is a realm where introspection has flourished, and self-discovery has been fostered. It is within this silence that I still uncover deeper parts of my authentic self, peeling back layers of societal conditioning, superficial concerns, and external pressures. In that silence I can dialogue with my innermost thoughts and feelings, carving out a path to self-understanding, emotional intelligence, and ultimately, I hope, to wisdom.

Consider for yourself how finding more silence could serve as an incubator for self-discovery and creativity. Because it is within the quiet moments that our minds can wander and explore, unbound by the restrictions of external influence. Ideas germinate in the fertile soil of silence, uninhibited by the noise or chaos of our surroundings. This is where we construct meaning, develop new concepts, and generate the spark of innovation. Artists, writers, scientists, engineers, and philosophers - all have at one point in their journeys come to recognize the creative power of silence and solitude.

There is an even more important element to silence though beyond our personal introspection and creativity – silence also paves the way for empathy and understanding and I believe ultimately to love. When we consciously yield space in our lives and minds for silence, we create room for others to express themselves. We foster an environment where active listening can take place, demonstrating our respect and value for another person’s perspectives. In a world often dominated by those who shout the loudest, this silence is a testament to the power of quiet empathy, patience, and respect. I believe it is a most profound way to truly begin to love one another.

I hope that these thoughts on the value of silence give you some things to consider or reflect on in your own life. I hope you will find some time today or this week to find some time to focus on silence and see how it compares to the otherwise busy and focused parts of your day. If you practice this and notice some benefit, I would be eager to hear your feedback. I promise to listen more than I speak.

Have a great week!

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