There is an often-repeated cliche about silence being golden (and, truth be told, I prefer those version of the cliche that include the joke about duct tape being silver, as tempting as it is for people to want to shut others up with duct tape). However, by and large I have distrusted silence, for good reason, based on my own experience, under most circumstances. As a result, I thought it would be worthwhile to explain why I have found silence to be so generally unprofitable and why I tend to mistrust the silence of others, and find it to be largely profitless and counterproductive as well, except as a temporary expedient while one seeks to formulate informative and respectful speech.
I suppose in many ways that I am rather biased against silence based on my own personality and temperament. Being a person who is compelled to speak out, even when it is at some risk to my safety and well-being, I tend to find silence to be at best difficult and unpleasant and at worst to be absolutely intolerable. I am aware that this personal quality of mine (I cannot exactly call it a flaw, but it definitely is a very notable aspect of my character and personality) can be deeply frustrating and upsetting to others, and I really hate having my speech (which is often a way for me to reduce my own extreme pressures in life) causing pressure or stress or suffering to someone else, whether deserving or undeserving of it, but they probably do not wish for their silence to cause such suffering and pressure to me either.
The cliche, at least in one of its older versions, says that speech is silver, but silence is golden. It is notable that despite the frequent currency of this particular quote, neither it nor any equivalent concept can be found in the Bible, with but one possible exception that is worthy of note. The English Standard Version for Proverbs 17:9 reads: “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” Other translations note that covering an offense means forgiving it, and letting it be rather than seeking to divide others by repeating offenses in order to divide others up. This is a noble purpose for some silence, the sort of silence that results from having an issue forgiven, resolved, and no longer a burden on one’s heart and spirit. This sort of silence does not cause trouble for the person who is silent nor for others, but rather is a freeing of unpleasant burdens. This is not the sort of silence I found to be personally troublesome, even if it is somewhat rare.
Nor do I find it troubling when people are silent simply because they are busy and their lives do not happen to intersect mine. I often find it difficult to keep in touch with people, and often my prolonged silence with others simply means that our paths have not crossed and that there are no feelings of harshness or displeasure on my part towards them. I have had people, on occasion, come to me about my supposed silence to them for a period of a few weeks at a time, and I am deeply apologetic whenever I have made someone suffer by my own silence, or have seemed more distant or distracted or standoffish than usual, since it is almost never meant badly. Quite frankly, I wish more people would make an effort to come and speak to me, especially if they think I may have something against them, as such friendliness allows me to smooth over offenses that people might think I have mistakenly, as well as to reflect on whether they have any offenses to charge against my own account. I do not find the sort of silence that results from being busy to be a negative matter either, except insofar as other people feel negative about it, which can be easily resolved by conversation and speech. Here again speech trumps silence by providing correct information that helps to alleviate the concern and worries of others.
These are not the kind of silences that I often have to deal with, though. There are silences of a much longer duration and of a much more malign influence that I have had to deal with, and it is these silences that have helped shape my own view towards silence in general and its inferiority to speech. There are some cases where there exist difficulties in communication and disagreements, often of a prolonged or serious nature, where silence does no help because it does not communicate either the feelings or concerns of both parties, or improve relations between them. While such a state may be preferable to arguments, it is far inferior to honest and respectful and open communication that would lead to a mutual recognition of where the other person is coming from and a resolution of issues, as well as a mutual forgiveness of whatever offenses, real or imagined, exist. Silence is only beneficial in such circumstances as a temporary expedient in order to calm one’s temper (should it be a problem) and to determine what sort of respectful and honest communication one can make in order to explain one’s difficulties in search of a fair and honest resolution.
Other types of silences are even more ominous than this, the sort of silences that show active antipathy and deep hurt. It is these sorts of silences that I have the most difficult time dealing with, and silences that I do not find get better with time. Often the cause of this sort of silence, ironically enough, is an initial unwillingness or embarrassment in speaking (sometimes on my side, sometimes on theirs) while matters are small and minor, and piling up of hurt feelings until someone is so upset about something that their respect and regard for someone else have reached the level where they do not feel the need or desire to discuss anything openly or respectfully, nor consider that their silence and actions may have provoked reciprocal hurts of an equal or comparable nature that need to be resolved openly and honestly as well. It is this sort of silence that I find most bothersome.
I am generally open about admitting my own wrongs, such as they exist in reality, given my awareness of my own imperfections. However, I’m not generally willing to admit wrongs that I am not guilty of, nor am I willing to admit wrong without pointing out the reciprocal wrongs that someone has committed against me, which may not always be a matter others are willing to admit and overcome either. For those people who complain (usually to third parties and seldom to me personally) about disliking a certain defensiveness in my communications, I feel it necessary to point out that if you do not like defensiveness you had better avoid attacking. Given my own anxious and hyper-vigilant nature, I tend to think that my words and actions are often in need of defense (given my own experiences), and in the absence of those willing to defend me, I will defend myself when I feel greatly put upon, something that most people generally do not like receiving.
This being a public document, I am aware that some of the people who read this may feel that they are being discussed as potential inspirations for my reflections on this vexed subject. As always, I hope that my speech has not been specific enough to target anyone or hurt anyone’s feelings. In seeking to explain myself and to resolve my own stress and pressure in this subject, I do not wish to inflict harm on anyone else. Rather, my aim is to provide a willingness to restore whatever good feelings have been harmed and have not been materially aided by months or years of silence. Given that I am not a good mind reader, and that I am the sort of person who feels compelled to speak out about those matters that deeply bother me (where, I admit, life would be far less complicated if I could keep silent short of silvery duct tape). So, for those who read this and feel that they are a target of my frustrations and vexations about malign and hostile silence, I ask the following from you, in order not to increase the hurts and offenses that have already been charged to my account. I would like to receive, privately, an explanation of why you have kept silent from me, what original offenses led to your hurt, and what sort of remedies or actions that I can take to improve matters between us. Likewise, if you feel that I have been silent from you or might hold some sort of grudge against me, I likewise would wish for you to bring it up to me, so that I may provide you with the same respect and open communication in return. You know where to find me.