Chaplain's Corner + Silence is Golden
A number of aphorisms inspired by popular wisdom are especially applicable to this age of instant global communication. I immediately think of one of my father’s favorite instructional sayings: “The wisest word is the word unspoken.” What brings this to my mind are recent media accounts of some notable individuals making some quite unwise statements that they think are private comments, but which later end up being publically broadcasted. Often the individuals themselves are adversely affected, and when they are associated with others, be they corporations, governments or sport teams, the untoward effects extend to many.
Would it not be ideal if “the word unspoken” were not just motivated by desire to avoid the inauspicious consequences of making unwise statements, but, rather, sprang from the habits of a truly virtuous mind and heart? Buddhist wisdom is particularly apt in this understanding: “Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.”[i] When one has acquired such virtue, then wise silence should follow because it is built on a solid foundation.
In the book of Proverbs (8: 13), King Solomon tied true wisdom to virtue: “The fear of the Lord hateth evil: I hate arrogance, and pride, and every wicked way, and a mouth with a double tongue.” Hebrew wisdom puts it this way: “If a word be worth one shekel, silence is worth two.”[ii] The silence that is “golden” is, then, a product or consequence of virtue. Benjamin Franklin understood that developing the value of silence is one of the defining characteristics of a virtuous person in attaining what he called ‘moral perfection’. He wrote: “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation."[iii] In the same vein, Roman Catholic Dominican friar, Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 – 1327 AD), wrote, “In silence man can most readily preserve his integrity.”[iv]
What better way to nurture virtue in our hearts and practice its offshoot of ‘golden silence’ than to be enlivened by God. Eastern Church Spiritual Father St. Mark the Acetic, writing in the fifth century, tells us: “God is the source of every virtue as the sun is of daylight (Philokalia I, p. 113). He says further that “Fulfilling a commandment means doing what we are enjoined to do; but virtue is to do it in a manner that conforms to the truth. (p. 123).[v] Indeed, God is the ultimate truth.
[v] Palmer, G. E. H., Sherrard, P., & Ware, K. (Trans.). (1979–1999). The Philokalia: The compete text (Vols. 1–4). London, England: Faber & Faber