Silence means security

Another one of my favorite mantras, I have traced “silence means security” back to some great mid-century propaganda posters. Along with such phrases as “loose lips might sink ships” and “keep mum chum,” the original idea communicates that gossip and banter can have real-world consequences for those we love. Once again, we have access to a wealth of useful advice if we only know how to unlock it.

Just as information security means more than simply keeping secrets, understand that security as I’m presenting it here can mean at least a few things. First, it can directly mean our ability to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities. Not giving out an online banking password over the phone is a good application of this, as is keeping our best friend’s secrets. Second, it can mean the security formed from strong interpersonal relationships. For example, if I refuse to participate in gossip, others have more incentive to trust me. If a wedding officiant asks if anyone has any objections to the ceremony, even someone who has something relevant to say is well-advised to keep their trap shut.

Silence can also serve as a useful and even valuable part of conversation, making our interpersonal bonds stronger. It gives all participants the chance to gather their thoughts and digest what has been said. With so much information going around these days, that’s really important!

Our daily lives revolve around processing and responding to information. We feed our cats once per day, on the advice of our veterinarian. Our cats, used to having food available all the time (and believe me, it shows), like to insist that something is wrong. Even if the information we have is factually incorrect, simply knowing that it’s incorrect is powerful data in our quest for the truth.

Information often increases in power when we have a medium to transport it from Point A to Point B, so it’s not just floating around doing nothing. Lyrics gain power when sung. Landscapes in a painter’s imagination gain power once committed to canvas. Thoughts gain power when converted to words.

That power is not always a good thing. Negative words have the potential to hurt those around us. Untrue words can wreck careers. Sometimes even well-meaning words can be misinterpreted and ruin a friendship. How can we make the best of this?

  1. Think before you speak. I mean it! Is what I’m about to say true? If so, does it need to be said? Is it the best way to phrase what I’m trying to convey? Consider using a test like the Rotarian Four-way test.
  2. Don’t talk just to talk. In a regular group conversation, try to treat your primary role and primary goal as those of a listener and a learner, respectively. Aim to learn something and switch into active mode only when you can move the conversation along and position yourself to learn even more! In the meantime, learn to ignore that little flutter in your gut that tells you that it would be so satisfying if only you could make a statement to make you sound smart, or make the perfect joke, or hammer home why your sports team has the best fans.
  3. Remember that speaking less makes each word worth more. People who economize their words are likely to come off as more interesting than those who won’t stop talking.
  4. When you do speak, try not to gossip. I don’t just mean “talking smack” when someone’s not around (although I try to minimize that). I mean trafficking in half-truths or untruths. If I didn’t see or hear something directly, repeating gossip could hurt someone’s reputation—and possibly cost me a friend. Shine as a light to the world.

Today I touched on how to use silence to step up your game. You don’t have to be quiet all the time or change who you are. If you’re naturally chatty and it’s not hurting anyone, keep it up! I will expand on these points in the future, including why I think it’s more important to be interested than to be interesting. In the meantime, let me know what you think!