Life Story: Better say nothing

Life Story: Better say nothing

Since forever words and silence have been seeking a balance. Though we’re incessantly encouraged to express our thoughts and feelings, we tend to overuse it. We feel intuitively when we should finish a conversation or not start it. Though we decide the opposite without thinking about the implications it might cause. Sometimes the smarter thing is to say nothing at all.

I’ve been always encouraging my daughter to say what she thinks. Until a day when I found out that she’s been saying aloud to everyone about not liking one of her classmates. The result was that her classmate started to do the same. The situation became quite tense. I asked my partner his opinion on this matter. I was aiming at teaching our child to speak openly but at the same time, I didn’t want all her classmates to turn against her one day. My partner, as always wisely, responded:

– I believe we should teach her empathy. She can tell us everything, but when it comes to other people she should be careful not hurting their feelings.

Empathy. Why didn’t I think about it before? It’s so obvious that often times, we forget about the basic principles of social interactions. We get used to seeing people in the light of their behaviors or deeds, but we overlook that they’re conditioned by their feelings and those feelings are in turn conditioned by their past experiences. The puzzles started to get their place.

Not so long ago, I’ve written a post about saying openly what we think.

While I still stand for it, I learned that it should always be done with special attention and due regard to people’s feelings. In some specific situations, it is strongly recommended to refrain from any painful comments. Either because it’s pointless or because it causes more harm than brings the benefit.

Let’s have a look at 3 examples of when it’s better to say nothing.

1. Criticizing parents

It takes two years to learn to talk and a lifetime to learn to be quiet.

Ernest Hemingway

The words we utter to the people nearest to us are sometimes sharper than any knife, they create walls that are very difficult to knock down and they hurt the people we really love and respect (source: Exploring Your Mind).

This is one of the most challenging topics for me. As an adult, I see plenty of mistakes made by my parents. I compare myself to them. I promise myself to be different. But me, as a parent, I also make mistakes. Even though access to contemporary knowledge on how to raise the children is relatively wide, it doesn’t prevent parents from making mistakes.

Nevertheless, every problematic situation between us incites me to criticize them. I accuse them of not showing me enough love, of not sharing with me enough attention, of not teaching me relevant skills. They don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to acknowledge it. They defend themselves. It always ends up badly. No compromise is reached. No understanding is achieved. There’s a wall.

Say nothing anymore about their mistakes. If you need to express your pain, keep saying only about your feelings. How it affected you. How it hurt you. You’ll see that the tone of the conversation will calm down. That its course is different. Maybe even unexpected. If it doesn’t work despite all your efforts, at least you can feel good about the way you managed your pain without hurting anybody else.

2. Betrayal

Staying quiet does not mean I have nothing to say, it means I don’t think you’re ready to hear my thoughts.

This is a controversial matter and we can hear different voices debating on whether we should report a betrayal or not. For a very long time, I believed that whoever knows about a betrayal should immediately inform about it the concerned person. Today, it’s not obvious for me anymore. Today I believe that the only person who should speak up is the one who betrayed. Firstly, the betrayed person usually doesn’t believe it if the information comes from a third party. Secondly, the messenger is often accused of destroying the relationship by the fact of sharing unwanted news. Thirdly, the betrayed person feels much more humiliated if the information is communicated by an external source. Not speaking about exposing oneself to the betrayer’s anger.

Interfering into such a delicate matter is risky. We should remember that what feels right for us doesn’t have to feel right for other people. We don’t know what kind of relationship is between them. Maybe the other party doesn’t wish to know the truth. Maybe the other party accepts things the way they are. Maybe the other party does the same. Based on what are we authorized to step in?

If you really believe it’s indispensable to react and you have the right to do it, it seems more reasonable to reach the person who betrayed and encourage to tell the truth. This way the burden of responsibility is not on you. It’s on the person it should be on. What if the betrayer does not feel like to meet the challenge? You made your job. The right time comes for everybody.

3. Provocation

How beautiful is to stay silent when someone expects you to be enraged.

It’s hard not to say anything when someone is pushing your buttons. When someone is trying to get you out of your balance. When someone is teasing you. However, giving in to that game may turn out to be catastrophic for you. Don’t let empty words to destroy you. You can just smile about it or you can also start teasing your adversary.

  • Why would it interest you?
  • Why would you like to know it?
  • Why are you asking?
  • I don’t think it should interest you.
  • It’s really none of your business.

I’ve experienced numerous situations where people wanted to get out of me a word in the matter which was not theirs. They can be really pushy. But the truth is that if you don’t want to say anything, you won’t. As someone rightly said, silence can never be misquoted. I find it useful when people poke their nose in other people’s affairs.

Do you think we should always speak openly? In what situation would you consider to remain silent? Why?

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5 thoughts on “Life Story: Better say nothing”

  • In the example of your daughter, I would take the opportunity to teach her about “time and place.” I’m proud of her for speaking her mind. She sounds like a confident young girl, which I think is a good thing. However, there is time and place for everything. If her friends were talking about vacation and she just blurted out that she didn’t like this other person, then it would have been weird. What would be the point of her saying that in that instance? However, if other kids were already talking about that person, I don’t see why she should speak her peace. Do you see the difference between those two scenarios?

    Also, I think it’s a chance to teach her to support her opinions with arguments. Saying that she does not like her makes her seem unfriendly, but explaining why she thinks that gives her credibility.

    Moreover, if she does not like someone (and has arguments), I would encourage her to approach that person directly and discuss her issues face to face. Sometimes it’s a misunderstanding.

    Just my 2cents. Unsolicited.

    • Thank you for your 2cents 🙂 Because of her age I believe that the question of “discussing her issues face to face” would have to wait a bit, but in a general picture, this approach is definitely reasonable. For sure there’s time and place for everything. And I agree that every statement like this should be endorsed by relevant arguments.

      On the other hand, how do we, adults, solve such issues? If we don’t like somebody, do we always go to that person to discuss our issues? Are we always straightforward and fair in this matter?

      • A valid question. I guess it depends on the relationship we have with the other person.
        If it’s someone I deal with regularly (a work collegue/ someone from a circle of friends), I do try and voice my issues. Fit them in a converation somehow to not make it so confrontational.

      • Definitely, it comes easier if we have already set a kind of relationship. Then, a simple discussion over problematic questions does not sound confrontational. What if we don’t like someone for no specific reason and we don’t have any kind of relationship despite working together? You know how it goes: no chemistry. Would you then approach the person to discuss anything?

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