And let silence be the general rule, or let only what is necessary be said, and in few words.
Epictetus, Encheiridion, XXXIII
My mother always taught me that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. But it’s not just about nicety. If you can’t say anything constructive, stay silent.
How hard it is to just keep our mouths shut sometimes! Social media has its positive and negative attributes, but in my personal opinion, the negative has a tendency to outweigh the positive, especially in our divisive era. I guarantee there are a plethora of examples of amazing positivity. I think you know from experience, though, that if you were to receive 99 positive comments and one scathing criticism, which one would you focus on the most? Human nature is to respond violently to negativity, even it is some vitriolic firebrand trolling out of boredom. Because we want to be liked, we crave thinking someone cares or is interested in our lives. On my YouTube channel, I always get a chuckle when someone takes the time to give me a thumbs down on an instructional video. We get it, thou dedicated misanthrope. You hate learning!
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Including mine about the pitfalls of social media. A person can spray as much vitriol or kindness as they so choose, on social media or elsewhere. I am so happy to live in a country where freedom of speech is a guaranteed right for every individual. Consequently, if you are spreading hate, lies or just being downright ugly, know that at some point you are more than likely going to have to take responsibility for your words or actions. Better yet, before you speak out based on emotion, think long and hard about what you are saying before you say it. How many times have I stopped myself from adding tinder to an already blazing inferno of an argument? I’m sure I have done so before and then reneged and deleted a post or comment because I responded out of emotion. Deleting isn’t cowardice, really. It just shows me that you weren’t able to stick to your convictions or, optimally, engage in constructive dialogue. Guilty as charged.
Make it a goal to be constructive with your words. Take a moment to think about what you are going to say before you say it. I know for a fact that I have said many ungrounded, ignorant, hateful, lewd or obscene remarks out of pure anger or drunkenness. Part of my process now is to examine my words and utilize them only if necessary. For me, most things can go without comment. Also, I find myself still fighting the urge to lie or even embellish at some points because I did so for so long during my alcoholic life. Be truthful to yourself and you will be truthful to others.
The New Testament Letter of James states that “no human being can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. While I see some truth in that, I believe that through practice and discipline we can train ourselves to control it. Oftentimes, that means to simply stay silent. Imagine your tongue as a horse: wild, untamed, running wild, capable of a deadly kick. With time, patience, dedication, practice and application, that horse can become a tool, a friend, an ally to use for good. As I write this, I’m reminded of Jack London’s White Fang: the long, slow, patience Wheedon Scott shows to White Fang, the wolf-dog hybrid. Scott’s patience pays off, producing a domesticated and loyal friend in White Fang.
Experiment with silence. Listen to the world around you. Hear the truth of nature behind all the electronic static we create.
In the words of Marcus Aurelius, “since the majority of our words and actions are unnecessary, corralling them will create an abundance of leisure and tranquility.”