Words or silence – both speak volumes.
Joy ignites smiles when clever persons respond with humorous replies. We need good clean fun, and dry-witted people often provide that. In addition, pleasures arrive when a person responds with the right answer at the right moment. Several stories about word usage come to mind from a favorite book of mine, “Viva la Repartee,” a collection of “clever comebacks and witty retorts from history’s great wits and wordsmiths.”
Calvin Coolidge, the thirtieth president, was a man of few words, earning the nickname, “Silent Cal.” After returning home from church one Sunday morning, the First Lady, Grace, asked, “What did the preacher speak about today?”
Coolidge replied, “Sin.”
Disturbed by his lack of detail, she wanted to hear more news of the sermon she’d missed, “Well, what did he say about it?”
Apparently enjoying the moment, Coolidge replied, “He was against it.”
In the 1900s, Joseph Choate and his wife lived in England while her husband served as ambassador. While at a London party, the host suggested they play a game. She asked partygoers to name the person they’d most like to be if they were not themselves. When Choate’s turn came, he stood and glanced toward his wife before providing his diplomatic answer: “If I could not be myself, I would like to be – Mrs. Choate’s second husband.”
As refreshing as clever words are, silence can prove stronger than words. When an intellectual discussion goes over my head, I dive out of the conversation and swim into the shallows of silence. There, I can seem contemplative instead proving my ignorance by speaking. “Blessed are they who have nothing to say, and who cannot be persuaded to say it,” said James Russell Lowell.
In this year of studying, reading, and searching out humility, I’ve concluded that silence becomes trademark of a humble person. However, silence can be the wrong response whenever we see evil and our integrity demands a rebuttal. At those times, we must gather the courage to respond, but for this day, we address the good nature of silence.
Consider these effective ways to practice silence: Within a small gathering of people, when someone has received praise, remain silent and allow them to bask in the rewards of their labors.
How about swallowing pride and backing out of opinion based squabbles by saying, “You could be right,” and then remain silent and listen to the other person. However, don’t stew in silence: truly contemplate their stance on the issues.
When you ask a trusted person for advice or to evaluate your job performance, become silent, listen intently, and consider all spoken observations. A simple thank you will suffice when they are through. Don’t let bitter thoughts invade. Pray to receive and accept any truths they relate.
Mend arguments with apologies. However, after a sincere apology, allow the controversial issue to drop, even if the other person continues to lecture. Remain silent and practice humility. You don’t have to get in the last word. Silence can often be the most sincere answer.
I am moved by the many times, Jesus told evil spirits and storms, “Be quiet.” He stopped their rackets and trumped evil by calling for silence. I am moved when I remember how his disciples “kept quiet” when Jesus asked what they had been arguing about. They kept silent because they were guilty of arguing about “who was the greatest.” In poignant reply, Jesus sat down, called the disciples to join him, instructing, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:33-35).
Silence deserves a larger stage. Try lifting the curtains on it among your family and friends. When you stop a volley of words, they might want a curtain call.
Hunger for Humility (36): “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15).
Cathy Messecar welcomes comments at www.cathymessecar.com