Like most people, I have lots of opinions on just about everything, and I’m only too happy to share them, usually in much more detail than anyone cares to hear. I grew up in the sixties and seventies, when we were encouraged to “let it all hang out” in “rap sessions” (remember when “rap” didn’t refer to a musical genre?) and I guess I took that lesson to heart a little bit too much. So believe me, I really do understand why so many people feel the need to constantly express themselves in almost any situation they happen to be in. It’s just that I’ve come to realize that there are times when it’s much, much better not to communicate just exactly what we are thinking and feeling.
There are so many ways in which silence can be the best response. There’s the little things, like when a friend makes what I think is an unfortunate fashion choice, and I’m thinking, “Gee, that outfit emphasizes all the wrong things.” If we’re not in a dressing room where my friend is still choosing whether or not to buy that particular item of clothing, that’s a thought that is best left unexpressed. Being a good friend means not letting every petty thought that flits across my brain actually come out of my mouth.
And then there’s Facebook, where I check in daily to make sure I don’t miss out on something important, like a photo of someone’s meal or the latest cute puppy video. Each time I scroll down my newsfeed, I’m sure to see a post about some hot-button topic that I think is completely and totally wrong. Even though Facebook thoughtfully provides a comment section inviting me to say just that, I refrain. Because while I’ve seen far too many heated arguments on Facebook, I have never yet seen anyone change his or her mind just because someone took the time to tell them they were wrong…on-line, no less, where everybody can see it. Go figure.
The higher the stakes, the harder it is to remain silent, at least for me. When a friend or relative is telling me about an important problem, my natural reaction is to speak up right away, telling them exactly what they need to do to make things right. Usually, that’s not at all helpful to the person with the problem. They need me to listen and provide a safe sounding board while they figure out exactly what it is they want to do about their problem, not jump in and tell them what to do. Sometimes unsolicited advice just makes things harder, like if I say, “dump the cheating jerk,” when what my friend really wants to do is figure out a way to salvage her relationship. In that cases, my advice just makes her feel judged, not supported, and I’ve only added to her problems.
I am, by nature, both a talker and a fixer, and in many situations, that’s actually a good thing. But slowly, I’m learning that there are also many times when I need to stay silent, to keep my advice and my opinions to myself. There are times when I need to simply allow people to believe things I disagree with, to make choices that I think aren’t wise and to live their lives exactly the way they want to, without the “benefit” of my wisdom. In short, I need to do my best to keep my lips zipped unless I actually hear those magic words, “and what do you think?”