Thursday, May 14, 2009

Silence is Golden



Americans are outspoken. It's part of our culture to open our mouths and say whatever we feel like, always, in every situation. Yadda yadda yadda. In some parts of the country, this value is so deeply inculturated that we believe if we do not speak, it's not healthy, or we're being sneaky, hiding behind our silence.

I've lived in the American south now for more than ten years, a place where belief in the value of keeping quiet is still intact. Slowly, over time, I've come to see that I don't always have to say everything I'm thinking. In fact, sometimes it's actually better to just keep my mouth closed. I would never have believed this, once upon a time.

Old habits are hard to kick; sometimes I blurt things out and then feel so stupid, or rude, or obnoxious. Or superfluous (word I learned in Miss Searcy's class). A very wise friend of mine believes it's good to think about what you hope to accomplish every time you speak. What is your motivation?

Clearly it will take a LOT of practice on my part to fully develop a new habit of saying less, thinking more about what I do say. And it's kind of excruciating to realize how often I speak with no motivation at all except to hear how witty I am, to entertain the listener. For heaven's sake. It's a big change of habit for me, but I'm working on it. Wish me luck!

31 comments:

ellen abbott said...

I suppose the proper comment to this is no comment.

Fidgeting Gidget said...

Superfluous is one of my favorite words! :)

Reya Mellicker said...

I'm not against communicating. My goodness, no. I'm simply trying to learn how to think before I speak.

It's a tough one for me!

Joanne said...

What is it Thoreau said, "Simplify, simplify, simplify." I like this post, and often do feel that the less said the better. Except on blogs ;)

JC said...

As I've gotten older, I have found myself listening more. I too try to think about what I want to say before I speak. Other times though, I'm still a silly child, talking from my head ... sometimes it's ok and other times ... well, it's not.

And, I was going to say that too .. the blog is for you ... to talk or yell or just post photos of your dog.

Meri Arnett-Kremian said...

That's the beauty of writing -- you can think while you write and edit before publishing. Or maybe we need to breed selectively for a 10-second delay and delete function for unfortunate vocalizations. Maybe when we say something uberstupid, we could claim a case of intellectual Tourette's -- that something in our brain misfired and we made an involuntary vocalization.

Steve said...

All of us say things we shouldn't, or think twice about afterwards. Learning to hold our tongues is a valuable skill!

Reya Mellicker said...

Or maybe we need to breed selectively for a 10-second delay and delete function for unfortunate vocalizations.Yes, it's the spoken word that gets me into trouble. Here on the blog, I actually DO think before I write.

I'm not berating myself, I should say. My motivation for the subject of today's post was to lighten up after my big trip to the Vietnam Memorial.

willow said...

But I like it when you say everything you're thinking!

Love your little reflected hand in the potted shrubbery stealing that shot.

deborah said...

speak
spontaneously
and unselfconsciously
you ARE
entertaining
you ARE
enlightening
you ARE
delightful
speak and let me hear you

love and more love

Reya Mellicker said...

I do speak spontaneously, I do.

Man, I totally was unable to get across, in this post, what I've been working on learning.

Except Steve and Meri get it, I think!!

Sandra Leigh said...

It's all about balance, isn't it? Sometimes the temptation is to keep quiet when in fact there are things that need to be said. I'm in favour of erring on the side of silence, though.

Rain said...

I tend to blurt out too much information about myself...I think it's a social anxiety thing. I've tried hard lately to count to five before I say anything and that seems to work for me!

R.L. Bourges said...

I like what Rain says about counting to five, although I think of it more in musical terms as skipping beats from time to time - specially when the feeling is a rush to speak out now, now, now.

And a one, and a two, and a three and a ...

Enjoy the day.

Hammer said...

Too many people view quiet and silence as some sort of lack that must be filled, but when you recognize that oftentimes it's just another kind of invisible energy, you're able to see things that would otherwise be drowned out by noise.

As for Southern folks, the spaces between sentences are every bit as important as the sentences themselves. Sometimes even more so. Takes a while for the gringos to figure that out, but it looks like you've adjusted accordingly.

Lizzy Frizzfrock said...

Oh, I do wish you luck & hope that some of that luck rubs off on me! I've always lived in the south (either GA or TX) and I can tell you not one bit of keeping quiet has rubbed off on me! I need to turn over a new stone!

John Hayes said...

I don't think the "silence is golden" lesson sank into me in Virginia, tho you're right about a sort of southern restraint. I think I have more or less learned that lesson since (with occasional lapses, no doubt). Good luck!

Mrsupole said...

When growing up, we were not allowed to talk to adults unless they spoke to us first. Our mom would say to us all the time that Silence Is Golden. And this was a rule we had to live by. This is probably why I loved to read books so much. Now I too need to relearn these rules. I guess this think before you speak thing helps us to not put our foot in our mouth so much. Or to say mean things that you wish you had not spoken.

So I am wishing you well with this task and much success.

I am still sick, hopefully soon I will get well. Thank you for offering to plump my pillows. I really appreciated it. I should buy stock in Kleenex too.

God bless. Stay well.

Reya Mellicker said...

Another thing Southerns can do is use words like "alright" or "OK" to mean at least one million different things. I am in awe of that skill, truly in awe.

Hammer said...

The worst is if we hit you with the following combo:

long silence
"Alright."
another long silence

It's our own little socially acceptable verson of STFU.

Lover of Life said...

I do the same thing. Working on it!

I could see your hand with the camera peeking around the bush to take the first picture. Good shot!!

IntangibleArts said...

I'm totally out of step with America on this one. I see much of this cultural blab-habit as morbidly hideous. Simultaneous cross-conversations in close quarters make me insane.

Even as a kid, was always fascinated by mute people. I saw it (ignorantly, perhaps) as a means to a stronger, richer character.

Viva la pregnant pause!

Ronda Laveen said...

I think it is called listening. Really listening. To others, of course, but mainly to yourself. You know, being quiet enough to hear that "still, small voice." So many people talk just obscure that voice. At times, it can be frightening.

I, too, am working on that and in three more days, will launch into a 40 day, self-imposed enrollment in the School of my Own Awareness.

Will keep you posted. I don't want to drown my inner, comedic, smart a**. Just want to sharpen the focus. BTW, I loved you big, hulkin' guy on the sidebar.

Bee said...

I always think of this: It isn't your job to fill every silence. (The husband of one of my mother's friends said this to his talkative wife.)

Sometimes words add something; sometimes they are just noise and interference!

Reya Mellicker said...

Oh Hammer, I know that one. Yikes. The air gets real thick during those pauses. Scary.

Ronda yes, listening. I'm developing that skill, but I'm also interested in non-verbal communication.

And also in saying less rather than more.

Reya Mellicker said...

Intangible - Indeed!

Merle Sneed said...

Fantastic rose. Say less, but don't blog less.

Verily I go. said...

AAh...Reya and the spy camera with her watchfull partner agent Jake. Wonderful photo. Silence is a skill and does take practice. When next in a group, try not speaking until you are asked a question. It's a lot if fun. Then of course join in, otherwise you will pop!

karen said...

Hi Reya. what a lovely photo! Been catching up on all your posts, and particularly enjoyed your impressions of the Vietnam war memorial, and the pics on FB are amazing... I know exactly what you are trying to say in this 'Silence is Golden' post, too x

Star said...

If what you are about to say will hurt somebody, then don't say it! Least said, soonest mended.
Silence is truly golden.
Blessings, Star

freshprose said...

my name is Gary Hunnicutt...I went to high school with you, Reya...how do I email you without being on your blogg or anyone else's blogg for that matter?

signed,
The Anti-Blogger

gary

ps. my nickname is "Fresh"