The Virtue of Silence

There are many virtues that a person ought to embrace because they makes us better people. One of the Founding Fathers of America, Benjamin Franklin, set out a regimen for practicing and instilling virtues in his life. Though he was not perfect, he had a noble and honorable goal. I decided that practicing virtuous living was a good and worthy goal, so I am focusing on one virtue per week. This week’s virtue is silence.

This is not meditative silence like solitude. Rather, this is temporary silence where I pause before I speak. Silence is centered around three key questions to ask myself before giving an answer: (1) Is my response true? (2) Is my response kind? and (3) Is my response necessary?

Is my response true?
Is what I am about to say true and factual? Is it something that really happened? Does it have hyperbole and exaggeration that can be mistaken for truth (you know, a “Tall Tale” or a “Fish Story”). I ought to strive for truthfulness in my conversations, taking care not to become carried away by an exaggeration of the facts. However, imparting truth in conversation is not enough because truth without love can be a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1b).

Is my response kind?
Kindness (love, gentleness, respect) ought to be evident in my conversations. Yes, I want to be truthful, but not to the point that it sacrifices truthfulness. My conversations ought to be “gracious, seasoned with salt, so that [I] may know how [I] ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6). Kindness with truth will invite further dialog, whereas truth lacking kindness can be harsh and turn dialog off. Think of the times you have been in conversation and someone said something to you that was true but was done in a way that lacked kindness. It can be very hurtful and even damage relationships. The way I dialog is as important as the content of my responses. I must not lose sight that my interlocutor also bears the Imago Dei. Finally, kindness and truthfulness are not enough for effective conversation, I must ask myself a third question: is my response necessary?

Is my response necessary?
Is what I am about to say necessary and appropriate at this time? Is it relevant to the conversation and will it be helpful to the person with whom I’m dialoging? If it is inappropriate or if it has nothing to do with the present conversation, then perhaps it is best left unsaid for the present moment. Not everything that I have to say in a conversation needs to be said. I must allow wisdom to play a part in my conversations.

Regarding this virtue, Benjamin Franklin said: “Silence is not always a sign of wisdom, but babbling is ever a folly.” The virtue of silence allows us to practice wisdom and avoid folly in our conversations. May I, and you, dialog well with those around us.

This article originally appeared on Shawn’s personal blog, The Well & The Shallows.

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