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On the Virtue of Being Silent

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

Leading a large group of children through an engaging activity or exciting learning experience can be tough, primarily because many kids are prone to talking more than listening when they are energized by the topic at hand. Stored information and fermented memories just bubble up and out as stories that need to be shared. As a consequence, much ink has been spilled in the instruction of perfecting the art of listening, and rightfully so. I tell my students that it is hard to learn from someone when you are talking, because God made ears to work best when the mouth is not moving! And hopefully mom helped you understand the math in favor of using our two ears more than our one mouth.

But, independent of listening, how much time and effort has been devoted to helping us to know when to just be quiet? Ecclesiastes 3:1 teaches us that there is a season or occasion for everything. So obviously, there must be times, venues, and ventures where silence is more than appropriate, even under the intense and constant pressure for self-expression our culture values so much—especially on social media(!).

Here are some words of wisdom from the book of Proverbs on the subject of when to refrain from saying something (or posting something, or commenting on a post):

Whoever shows contempt for his neighbor lacks sense, but a man with understanding keeps silent. – Proverbs 11:12 

Being critical about the actions or words of others, especially when they are absent and can’t defend themselves, often says more about the arrogance and pride of the speaker than the perceived faults of the target. If you don’t have something nice to say about someone…

A shrewd person conceals knowledge, but a foolish heart publicizes stupidity. – Proverbs 12:23 

Publically pontificating on subjects that you don’t know much about is a bad idea. Keeping things “not of general interest” to yourself is a good idea. Moreover, most secular classroom settings, especially those in the sciences, are great places to practice discretion and silence. The authority (power structure) of this learning environment is in the hands of the professor, and rightly so. You are there to learn, and to demonstrate comprehension of what has been taught, not of what you believe to be true.

When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise. – Proverbs 10:19 

This is an interesting observation, and reflecting on it, I find that it holds true in my life. Idle chatter leads to gossip, long-winded arguments or explanations can reveal pride, falsehoods create the need for more words than truth, and it’s not a real conversation when one person does most of the talking.

Do you see a man who speaks too soon? There is more hope for a fool than for him. – Proverbs 29:20 

Ouch. I had a high school teacher that constantly reminded us to “engage your brain before running your mouth”. The saying made more sense to me after I learned to drive with a manual transmission (stick shift and clutch)! And, I have to be careful not to finish people’s sentences. Interrupting others is rude, disrespectful, and selfish. If there is a parenting tip to be given here, it is to be especially diligent to teach your child this truth.

The intelligent person restrains his words, and one who keeps a cool head is a man of understanding. Even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent, discerning when he seals his lips. – Proverbs 17:27-28 

This is my personal favorite as it provides hope for me. I could say more, but I am practicing keeping quiet!

What are some instances/or ways where keeping quiet might be helpful for you today? Share in the comments.

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