I’m not a quiet person. I’m enthusiastic and chatty, a real social being. I’ve been told to be quiet – once (memorably) during a Christmas celebration no less. I’ve challenged people who’ve told me off for being loud despite them being way louder than I, who then firmly rejected that fact when I pointed it out to them. I’m also a loud and passionate supporter of my rugby team.
I start with these disclosures to demonstrate that I’m not naturally someone who is drawn to silence, nor who believes that quietness is always a virtue.
Despite this, I’ve always been a really good listener. People have long come to me to be heard, to share their problems, to seek solutions. I know how to get other people to talk, and I know when it’s time to stay quiet, for I understand the therapeutic power of not speaking.
But a new learning is the power of choosing to stay quiet. Those occasions when I’ve typed a response to something I’ve seen online, only to decide to hit the delete key, or to moderate my words. When I’ve typed out a rant, then decided not to publish. When before speaking or typing, I’ve stopped to consider if what I have to say will add anything to the discussion, or be of benefit to anyone who needs it. To give thought to whether the person I’m speaking to is willing to listen. What if I could inadvertently start a war of words – is that something I want, is it something I could cope with?
I was feisty when I was young. I was argumentative and fought my corner. I had energy and enthusiasm for righting wrongs, and for defending my opinions and beliefs. Now, not so much. Now I appreciate a quieter life. Now I choose my battles carefully. That’s not to say that I never say what needs to be said, but I try to ensure that I don’t say it in anger or frustration, and that I gauge whether the audience is interested in hearing what I (or anyone else) has to offer. If I do say something, I try to be measured and kind.
Is this old age? Is this wisdom? Is it a desire to avoid confrontation or a fight? Is this recognition that there’s far too many polarising opinions flying about in the world we live in? I don’t know. I suspect, it’s a mixture of them all, and more besides.
I’m a lover of music, films and good TV, a regular watcher/listener of an interesting or informative YouTube video or podcast – yet I spend most of my day without adding a soundtrack to everyday background sounds. For I am not made uncomfortable by silence… even though this hasn’t always been the case. When first I lived on my own aged 50, I bought a radio. It played quietly in the background to keep me company during the day, and I slept with a small light on at night. Then one day both the radio and the light started to annoy me, so I turned them off and I’ve not wanted or needed them since.
But more than that, I’m relieved at the gradual reduction in those times when I’ve looked back and had to ask myself:
- did I need to say that?
- was it worth it?
- could I have put it better?
- was that actually helpful to anyone?
I cannot deny that I’m still very much a work in progress on this front, but the power of the pause and the value of choosing silence over blurting out my every thought is proving transformative, so I’ll keep working at it.
Silence – the power of staying quiet when you want to shout. Can you always? Should you always?
© Debra Carey, 2021