10 Things I Learned From Shutting the Fuck Up
Why “speaking” is unnecessary and stupid
This is my second post about The Virtue Of Silence. Read the first one here.
Each birthday, I set an intention for the year ahead. Year 22 was essentially about getting out of my own way. I focused on identifying and defeating the fears that worked as obstacles between me, my goals, and my peace. In doing so, I experienced an upward curve of gaining new knowledge about myself and the world around me — revelations about human nature made themselves evident in all aspects of life to the point that I thought I had everything figured out.
One observation about this process is that thinking you know it all will inevitably result in a harsh reality check every single time. Why? Because there is always, always, always more to learn, even if you live to be a hundred, even if you live to be a million. And if you spend time preaching what you think you know, you are leaving little room to hear information that you don’t already know. Because I am on a perpetual journey towards the Truth, I decided that creating space for new observations and information to enter my knowledge is more important than spreading my word. I will always appreciate new information, but others will not always appreciate my word.
So I have dedicated Year 23 to practicing the Virtue of Silence.
I practice silence in social situations by deeply listening instead of talking. By giving my full attention to those who are directly sharing parts of their human experience with me. By observing social situations in which everyone is trying to get a word in. By releasing the urge to chime in while watching people debate a topic that I feel knowledgeable and passionate about. By giving myself a moment to breathe before getting frustrated by other people’s dull moments, knowing I have plenty of dull moments myself.
I practice silence by myself by pausing to observe my intentions when I try to break the silence with music or a video. By taking a moment first to appreciate the sound of nothing that morphs as my auditory senses amplify background noises like leaves rustling and birds chirping.
I practice silence in my mind when negative thoughts start to arise. When I experience negative feelings that are projections of my own insecurities.
Although I have been home for the past few months and have had little social interaction, I would say the number of words that come out of my mouth when I am in social situations has decreased by around 20%.
What I Have Learned
1. What can be done through speech can be done more deeply and effectively through silence.
Often times, we talk about ideas because we want to influence the way people think and behave. We believe that the way we live is the best way to live, and we think the world will be a better place if more people lived the way we lived. Therefore, we try to share ideas with others in hopes of convincing them to shift the way they live closer to the way we live.
I don’t know about you, but the most effective way to influence me to change the way I live is by inspiring me. Rather than making arguments that guilt me into believing the way I live is wrong, I am much more likely to agree with you when I see how you apply your philosophies to your own life, and I see how they check out in reality.
Allowing your actions to speak for you reflects a deep confidence that your lifestyle aligns with what is True, rather than something based on Ego and can easily be shattered with reason.
In other words: if it works, it works.
I’ll see it and act accordingly.
2. Most words are unnecessary
Actively practicing silence gives me so much more room to analyze my intentions of speaking. What I have learned is that only a fraction of most speech is intended to help or be relevant to the listener; the remaining speech is usually intended to prove something about one’s self or to feed the speaker’s ego in some way. Practicing silence gives me a moment to analyze my intentions of speaking before I do so in order to make sure that I’m speaking from a place of love and truth rather than indulging in the pleasure of saying things about myself out loud and subjecting the listener to my ego boosters.
Some things just feel good to say out loud. It can be validating. There’s nothing wrong with that; however, in my journey of practicing Silence, I have found that speaking for the sake of hearing myself talk is equivalent to eating junk food — it feels good in the moment, but afterwards I think, why did I just do that? What was I trying to prove? What did I gain? I don’t even know how the filters of the listener’s human experience interpreted what I said — there’s a good chance it wasn’t interpreted exactly how I intended for it to be.
3. Silence is just as valuable as words, if not more
Alan Watts spoke about how when there is nothing (like before the Big Bang), there are infinite possibilities. Once there is something, those infinite possibilities are all erased and replaced with the “something” that now exists.
Where there is Silence, there are infinite possibilities of what could be. Those “infinite possibilities” make silence just as valuable as words. When words are spoken, Silence is broken. What words are worth replacing infinite possibilities? Not words used as an ego boost, that’s for sure.
Practicing Silence has caused me to think not only about what I’m going to say, but why I’m going to say it. Is what I am about to say worth replacing the potential for infinite possibilities? Am I saying this because it feels validating to say out loud? Am I trying to prove something about myself? Is it something that I want the listener to know about me? Am I saying this for me or them?
4. Speech only makes up 10% of human communication
Unless I’m at a job interview where I am overtly trying to impress the other party, I don’t see value in verbally trying to prove something about myself. If that “something” about myself is true, it should be evident in my behavior. If it’s not evident in my behavior, I need to analyze further whether this “something” is actually true, or if I just want it to be true.
When we speak with the intention of proving something about ourselves, it is a futile attempt to influence the other person’s perception of us. Others will have their perceptions of us based on who and how we are — their perception won’t suddenly change to match whatever we want it to be. And when you try to influence others’ perceptions of you in a dishonest way (whether you are aware of your true intentions or not), people can see right through that.
I am better off not saying anything about myself and giving people the space to make their own conclusions about me. They will be more accurate if they are based on what they see me do rather than what I say I do.
5. Practicing Silence gives room for mindfulness
When I am not constantly thinking about what to say next, I free up space in my mind for the present moment. I am here. I am listening to you. And you may have to wait for a response from me because I am fully digesting what you have shared with me and giving myself moments to think about whether it is True to me before I respond just for the sake of responding.
6. Truth is found in Silence
The Truth is often blurred by conflicting speech and logical gymnastics. We look at a blue sky and argue why technically it is green. We look at who is clearly a man but through guilt-tripping we are pressured to call him a woman. We refuse to address what are clearly problems because someone convinced us that what looks to be the root issue actually isn’t it. We pretend to have problems that aren’t there because someone has convinced us that not caring about these nonexistent issues makes us a bad person.
There is more than meets the eye, for sure. But we cannot just disregard what we see with our own two eyes just because someone used the weakest form of human communication to convince us that what we see is not actually there (and that what we don’t see is there).
On an individual level and a societal level, I have learned it is important to analyze the parts where words are absent, and then analyze the words themselves, and then we analyze the placement of the words.
7. You don’t know what other people know
I have been doing a good job of not letting my practice of silence cause me to judge others, but my goodness, does bragging stand out to me way more now. I cannot help but cringe so hard when people brag about what they do without knowing their audience. It reveals the exact opposite of what you were trying to prove. Example:
A guy who loves to talk about working out is talking about how much he works out. He reveals his workout regimen with the intention of impressing others. Little does he know, in his audience there may be people who are impressed, but it is also likely there are people who work out harder than him and just don’t talk about it. Rather than staying silent and having his love for exercise be reflected in his physique, leaving exactly what he does to be a mystery, he has revealed what he thinks is difficult and what he thinks makes him cool. This welcomes scoffs from people who don’t think that’s that cool and maybe even work out way harder than him.
If you are practicing silence, the fact that you work out will be evident in your body. The fact that you meditate will be evident in how peaceful you are. The fact that you are creative will be evident in what you produce.
A picture is worth a thousand words. No amount of talking will influence an intelligent person to believe what they hear rather than what they see.
8. Some things are meant to be kept to yourself
Words are rarely interpreted how they were intended to be.
Unless you are talking to someone close to you, or at least someone who knows you well, it is very common for your words to get interpreted differently from how you intended them, especially once they go through the filters of an individual’s human experience.
Some things, some experiences, some thoughts are only meant for you. The beauty that you experience through these things is likely only visible to you. It doesn’t hurt to share them with others, but you are setting yourself up for disappointment if you expect others to experience said things in the desired way through your verbal explanation.
Revelations, for example. Some people have huge amazing revelations about life. This is wonderful! It probably adds to their life in many ways. But to go around and preach about it as if it has never been thought of before and everyone will appreciate it and apply it to their life the same way you do? You are exposing yourself to potential criticism that could unnecessarily taint your beautiful personal experience.
9. Practicing Silence is a relief
Have you ever been in a group situation where everyone is trying to get a word in? When you feel passionate about the subject, it is so important that what you have to say is heard; however, this is a situation where talking is of high supply and low demand, and listening is of low supply and high demand. It is a relief to let go of the competition to get a word in and just be a person who listens. If someone wants to hear what I have to say, great — they can ask me! But releasing the pressure of trying to talk over others and get a word in allows you to relax on another level. Plus, these are situations where everyone could benefit from having a listener.
10. Practicing Silence breeds patience
You know when you start to feel really frustrated with someone? Either they’re not listening, they’re not paying attention, or they’re just not getting it? When you speak on your frustration, you breed more frustration because you have started running down a slope where the more you say, the more heated you get. Practicing silence in these types of situations give you a moment to take a breath and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Yes, maybe they’re not paying attention, but there have been plenty of times when you weren’t paying attention and you had no malicious intent to waste someone’s time. You may be frustrated that they don’t understand what you’re explaining to them — that’s no reason to allow frustration to make you think of them as stupid, as you have not understood every single thing that has been explained to you the first time it was explained.
Practicing silence and not acting on the urge to speak in frustrating situations gives you time and space to be patient with the person you are dealing with.
Obviously, being completely silent at all times isn’t feasible. And overthinking everything you say before you say it takes away the fun. When I’m with people I am comfortable with, I am less silent and share things about myself that aren’t to anyone’s benefit, but just to share because I love the people I’m with. On the flip side, when I’m in a situation with strangers, I utilize speech in creating a warm and open environment where everyone is at ease and not feeling awkward.
So with discernment, I practice silence when I’m around people, when I’m not around people, and within myself. It has benefitted me for the better, maybe it will do the same for you.
Shut the fuck up and have a blessed day.