“Speech is silver; silence is golden.”
– Thomas Carlyle, English poet
Imagine you are a teacher leading a group discussion on a particular subject. At one point in the lecture, you ask the class a question.
No one volunteers an answer.
So you, as the teacher, continue to wait, and wait, and wait. The classroom is so quiet you can hear the clock ticking.
And after an eternity of silence, one member of the class sheepishly suggests an answer. Finally, the silence is broken, and a lively classroom discussion erupts.
That is the power of silence.
Power of Silence
The teacher could have answered the question, but that was not the purpose. To get the class to answer the question and turn a lecture into a discussion was the purpose. Although the class may have thought the silence was uncomfortable, the teacher was perfectly fine with the silence because she knew its purpose.
Silence is a Tool
The quote by Thomas Carlyle shows that we value speech (the value of silver), but we need to value silence even more (as in the value of gold).
I can think of five important reasons for valuing silence.
Attempt an Answer
Silence forced the students to attempt an answer. Now for this to work perfectly, the students need to know the teacher will not penalize anyone for a wrong answer. You will learn more by attempting to answer a question and answering it wrong, than not suggesting an answer at all.
Silences force us to think before we answer. Most situations do not have a buzzer that we need to hit first to be allowed to answer a question as in TV games show. When asked a question, you need to ponder the answer carefully before you answer. Many times, it is not the actual answer you need to consider, but the context of the answer and the appropriate way to deliver the answer.
We need to learn how to listen. The question is not just in the words we hear, but in the non-vocal messages we receive from the questioner. Do they sound angry or irritated, is their body language aggressive or relaxed? What is the context of the question and could it be interpreted several different ways? It is important to understand not just what was asked but how and why it was asked.
Does the question demand more silence? Has the person who asked the question completed their thought, and by waiting with more silence will more information come? Can you coax more information using your non-verbal body language and facial expressions?
Courtesy and Care
Your silence is a demonstration of courtesy and concern. Patiently waiting for the person to finish speaking shows you care about what they say. Silence while formulating an answer is a sign you are not impulsive and that you want to formulate a good answer and not just one off the top of your head. And often your answer may be to follow with more questions.
There are many verses about the value of silence in the Bible.
Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent. (Proverbs 17:28)
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise. (Proverbs 10:19)
Silence in the Bible is for prayer, contemplation, and reverence, all which agree with Thomas Carlyle in that it is more valuable than speaking. Try it today, include silence in all your conversations and see what you will learn by not speaking.