". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Virtue of Shutting Up*

In my last post I linked to an essay detailing the writer's effort to go one month without engaging in snark. If you haven't read it yet I highly recommend you do so. It is excellent in many ways. Here is one of the passages that impressed me:

But here's the thing. Without the ability to vent, I had only two options: to let something relatively stupid eat away at me -- or to just let it go. So I tried that.

. . . . As the days went on, I bit my tongue about many things, including but not limited to the following:

The journalist on TV with the squeaky voice

A good friend's seeming belief that her puppy is human

Tourists screaming outside our house about needing to buy Febreze for their car

The plumber's inability to make our bathtub hold water

The likelihood that an old acquaintance who has never not cheated will manage to keep his bits in his pants now that he's engaged

At first I worried that not talking about these things would make me not "known" to the people in my life. Maybe I've had too many years of therapy, or maybe we've all had too many years of Oprah and the imperative to "get it all out." But this was an odd and even narcissistic presumption, as though people close to me needed to be aware of my every thought in order for our relationships to be genuine.

Instead of me denying my true thoughts, I stopped giving the unproductive ones much weight. Adding credence to the theory that changing what you do changes how you think, unkind thoughts just dissipated in a matter of days. It actually doesn't matter much whether my friend's dog gets to eat sitting on a chair at her table. She has her reasons. What do I care? And it's not like I don't do anything weird, either. I think I can tell what's in the mail before I open the mailbox. Is that any worse?

Not giving voice to my flinty little put-downs also eliminated that weird guilt where you wonder if the person somehow heard you or found out what you said. I also stopped suspecting that anyone might be saying harsh things about me.

Win win win.

Then yesterday I read a blog post written by a friend who also discussed the merits of simply shutting up:

I have just been pondering the perks of not saying as much anyway as it seems to be less stressful overall. Listening is certainly happening and pondering but avoiding the ire just works better. There is so much noise etc. at home that quiet is okay. Perhaps a craving for the quiet I can get, in just listening and being stiller is what is up with me. I have just been thinking of it as 'practicing shut up'.

I think these writers are on to something. Today with the advent of social media it is so easy to give immediate voice to whatever comes into our heads. The irony of my writing that last sentence on my blog is not lost on me. But I think sometimes we are too inclined to air our thoughts when it might be better to keep them to ourselves. Something happens and we run to Facebook or Twitter and make our pronouncement about whatever it is. Until recently I was a member of a forum in which I felt pretty safe to vent, rant and spout off about almost anything. And I did just that until something happened to suggest to me that maybe I was sharing too much. I left that group and for a while it was very hard. Something would happen in my daily life that I wanted to complain about but the place I used to go complain was no longer there. And over time I have found that some of the things I used to complain about aren't eating away at me as they did before. Whereas I thought the "venting" was helping me, I'm starting to wonder if really it was hurting me, causing me to dwell on those annoyances rather than choosing between addressing them or letting them go. I think if you were to ask my husband and children they would tell you that in the months since I have not had that "b****ing post" available to me I have become a happier, more serene person.

I am not trying to knock discussion groups or forums in general. They can be a wonderful thing and I still belong to a few. And this is not to say that everyone will have the problem that I had. But for me, at this point in my life, it was not a positive in the long run to have a place where I felt "safe" to say anything because I said lots of things that in retrospect I wish I had not said.

I am also not suggesting that we all need to practice repression and bottle up everything inside. It is good to share our joys and sorrows with friends and to help each other celebrate those joys and bear up under the sorrows. But sometimes the positive act of sharing and encouraging can degenerate into a habit of whining and complaining that isn't ultimately edifying. And sometimes our need to be heard can get us into trouble. There is a point at which it is less important to get our own point of view out there such that we can be understood and win the argument than it is to just listen to and nod and love the other person.

What I found, for myself, is that if I need someone to talk to, if I need to "vent" or "rant" or cry on someone's shoulder, it is more helpful to go to an individual that has proven to be a source of encouragement in the past rather than to air my woes in the vast canyon of a place like Facebook or Twitter where I don't even know if anyone is listening. And sometimes in the time that it takes me to think about writing to or calling my "ventee" the thing that was making me crazy has been put into perspective and I no longer see the point of dredging it up.

And then, of course, there's always God who, miracle of miracles, is never too busy to listen. I don't need a computer or a cell phone to reach Him. And with Him I don't have to measure my words at all because He knows me inside and out and nothing I say can surprise or offend or shock or annoy Him. He pats me on the head, says "There, there" and turns me around to go back out into the world and give it just one more try, knowing that He is backing me up every step of the way.

"Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you." - 1 Peter 5:7

*Bikermom, I borrowed your title. I hope you don't mind.

1 comment:

Bikermom said...

Oh I don't mind a bit. I think that this will be a life long journey. It just....helps....helps others and keeps my focus where it should be.

Forums are a tricky thing and yes, I have had my times as well where they got my attention more than I should have allowed them to. The two of us can keep this mantra up. Our families are too important to fog up our heads with too much clutter from reacting where we don't need to and in engaging in conversation which perhaps no one was looking for advice anyway???? I don't know. Quiet is easier to be sure. I have loads more fun with my own kids and family anyway.