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A Controlling Silence
There’s power in what we allow ourselves and others to say—and not to say.
“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.”— Blaise Pascal, 1658
One of the most frustrating things to witness, either as a bystander or as a participant, is when someone is unable to speak up when they’re the victim of some injustice.
This is the common theme spurring on activists across the spectrum, from voting rights to the death penalty, workers’ rights to abortion, and is the basis for the formation of unions.
When individuals unite, they can help the voiceless be heard.
Think about the power of silence for a moment:
It’s how autocrats maintain their status—by virtue of muzzling dissenters.
When a witness “pleads the fifth”—a reference to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, that protects a citizen from being compelled to give evidence against themselves—their silence speaks volumes.
The public is increasingly looking for brands to take positions on societal issues, and when companies respond with silence, the public interprets it as complicity.
A lack of communication is a powerful thing indeed.
At the same time, we can use moments of silence in our life to our advantage. Moments of serenity can bring great clarity or calm.
We can choose to remain silent in meetings until after everyone has spoken. This gives you the advantage of being able to observe the dynamics and process what everyone has said before you weigh in. Restraint, in this case, can convey gravitas.
The late David Ogilvy, considered to be the father of modern advertising, notoriously smoked a pipe, and he wielded it to his advantage.
He observed that when responding to a question, a pipe smoker could pause, take the time to load his pipe, tamp the tobacco down, light it, and generally fuss with it—all while considering his answer.
The cigarette smoker had no such advantage, and therefore was compelled to answer more quickly, and presumably less thoughtfully.
Ah, the simplicity of the smoking era.
Still, you see the point: silence was power.
The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, pulled in too many directions, try this: find five or ten minutes of quiet time. No devices. No interruptions. Breathe, focus, and determine how you’ll spend the next hour.
That will put you back in control.
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“He has occasional flashes of silence, that make his conversation perfectly delightful.”— Sydney Smith, 1855
Effective and easy ways to relieve stress at work. These four steps will point you in the right direction. (SmartBrief)
Your next meeting should be silent. That’s it. That’s the piece of advice. (Daniel Stillman)
Silence gives you a chance to learn to question and clarify your thoughts, which in turn will improve your self-knowledge and help you become a better communicator. (Psyche)
“Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.” — Cicero
The Need for Serenity. We need less dot com and more dot calm. (Timeless & Timely)
Susan Stebbing wrote Thinking to Some Purpose in 1939 with the aim of getting people to think clearly for themselves. We could use it today. Pause. Reflect. Think. (Aeon)
The case for disagreeing with yourself: Before You Answer, Consider the Opposite Possibility. Pushing yourself to listen to contrary opinions is the way to make better judgments. (The Atlantic)
“In common things that round us lie
Some random truths he can impart,—
The harvest of a quiet eye
That broods and sleeps on his own heart.” — William Wordsworth, 1800
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