Although it’s usually not the wrong choice to stand up, speek up, shut up and sitdown, it’s worth considering if this may be the time to just shut up and sit down. We’ve all heard about the benefits of being able to speek well, but just because you can speek well doesn’t mean you should. Let’s give some thought to the benefits of keeping our mouths shut.
For example, Will Rogers pointed out what seems obvious but is frequently ignored. He said, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” Austin O’Malley knew the chief benefit of silence, “If you keep your mouth shut you will never put your foot in it.”
Earl Wilson also had a useful take on whether to speek or shut up. He put the point this way, “If you wouldn’t write it and sign it, don’t say it.” I think that perspective is way too limiting but does hold a grain of truth. Perhaps Arnot L Sheppard Jr. had a more doable caution, “Isn’t it surprising how many things, if not said immediately, seem not worth saying ten minutes from now?” There is a Spanish Proverb that I suspect goes Sheppard one step better. It gives us this advice, “Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.”
Okay, you get it and so do I. When we are tempted to speek up, we should first consider listening instead. We don’t want to be one of those people Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was referring to when he said, “People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order so they’ll have good voice boxes in case there’s ever anything really meaningful to say.” I think James Lendall Basford was making the same point when he said, “Many talk as easily as they breathe, and with quite as little thought.”
What I need to remember and perhaps you will also think worth filing away comes from someone who’s name I have forgotten. I hope it is enough to admit that I didn’t say it first but wish I had. The keeper tells us, “The difference between a smart man and a wise man is that a smart man knows what to say, a wise man knows whether or not to say it.” Dorothy Nevill also had advice for us about when to speek and when to just shut up. She said, “The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”
It’s like Hermann Hesse warned, “Everything becomes a little different as soon as it is spoken out loud.” The popular Anonymous also spoke up here, “Even a fish wouldn’t get into trouble if he kept his mouth shut;” and “Foolishness always results when the tongue outraces the brain.” Ira Gassen joind the chorus with this, “Be careful of your thoughts; they may become words at any moment;” and Karl Popper added, “It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood.”
I suspect it’s close to or perhaps time to just shut up and sit down, or at least wrap this up. I’m reminding myself what Maurice Switzer told us, “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.” We might all do well to remember that his point also applies to writing, blogging and even to podcasting.
So let me leave you with this advice from Horace, “Once a word has been allowed to escape, it cannot be recalled;” so let’s agree to follow the advice of our friend Anonymous, “Keep your words soft and tender because tomorrow you may have to eat them.”
Now you know so there you go.