Shut Up: Panning For Gold In The River of Silence

In many instances, especially within Torah study groups as well as at work, I have somewhat of a reputation for being quiet. I tend to be quiet at work because, as a writer, I’m immersed in words all day long and I get pretty tired of them. In Torah studies, I’m actually just kind of selfish and would rather spend my time learning than speaking at length about a certain subject. “Quiet guy” is a title that I wear with pride. Why? Because it sure beats the hell out of the alternative.

“Fine speech is not becoming to a fool; still less is false speech to a prince.” 
– Proverbs 17:7

One of my favorite rabbis of all time – never mind that some of what he teaches I consider to be over-spiritualized mumbo jumbo – is Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. He’s known as the “Bebop Rebbe” as he is the foremost personality behind the Jewish Renewal movement that promotes outside-of-the-box thinking to promote Torah consciousness. Anyways, I love listening to him answer people’s questions because every time he does, he listens to the question, closes his eyes, and remains silent for as long as ten solid seconds. Dead silent. He then takes a deep breath and gives a very thought-out answer to the question. He’s one of the only people I’ve ever seen do this. I’ve never heard him ever give an explanation as to what he’s doing with those 5-10 seconds (which feel more like 2 minutes when you’re waiting to hear his answer), but I think he says more with the silence itself more than he ever would be able to explain. 

“Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keep himself out of trouble.” 
– Proverbs 21:23

I never really considered myself the quiet guy until it was brought to my attention. What brought this to my attention was not saying, “You don’t say much, do you?” but rather listening to others talk, and talk, and talk, and talk, and talk without ever saying much of anything. This is something that religious people are notorious for due to the seemingly-limited nature of the Torah. It is five books that are used to sum up how good Hebrews are to live. That’s pretty much it. Still, people love to talk and talk about stuff that – while it could be tied to something in the Torah – simply isn’t there.

Here’s a novel idea – why don’t you shut up? 

Yeah, I know this sounds harsh, but religious people would be far more successful at spreading their message – whatever that may be – if they just learned to shut their yappers. The more you live out your faith and the less you speak about it, the more people will be drawn to it. There is something to be said for living out your faith instead of spitting out your faith. If someone asks you about your source of happiness, why you’re doing something, of your religious faith, then tell them – but only answer specific questions. Keep the answers to the point. If they didn’t ask about every tenet of your faith, there’s no need to tell them about them. In doing this, you’ll leave these people wanting to learn more and they’ll have to draw it out of you instead of attempting to drink from a fire hose.

Something else we need to take into consideration before speaking is the quantity-to-quality ratio of our speech. Are the people you’re speaking to having to sift through some “eh, maybe that’s true” or “eh, maybe that’s meaningful” things in order to get to the goods? If they are the forced to sift through too much nonsense, they will more-than-likely stop listening to you because, frankly, it’s become too much work.

Listening is much more important than speaking. Nobody wants to listen to anyone who is mainly speaking just in order to be heard or is desperately instead of genuinely attempting to be relevant. By listening very closely to the conservation and taking all the subject matter to heart, this may determine if speaking is such a good idea.

Here are some things to think about before we speak: 

  • What is the reason behind my speech? Am I speaking in order to hear myself talk or to actually convey a message? 
  • Is this message I’m attempting to convey true or is it speculation I’m delivering as truth? 
  • Is what I’m saying going to benefit someone’s life in practical way? 
  • Is what I’m about to say completely and totally relevant to the conversation? Does it clarify the conversation or does it make it ever more murky?
  • Am I listening more than I am speaking? You definitely should be.

In the end, it comes down to saying more by speaking less. What you say will have will draw many more avid listeners if you don’t talk so much. Make a point of not a loud-mouth. Not only will it bless you, but it will bless the God in which you serve.