>Silence and actions

>”To act with others is always good; to talk with others for the sake of talking, complaining, and recriminating, is one of the greatest scourges on earth” (Emile-Auguste “Alain” Chartier, 1868-1951).

And then this:

Monastics ought to be zealous for silence at all times,
but especially during the hours of the night. (RB 42)

Benedict goes on many times about the ills of “murmuring”:

Above all things do we give this admonition,
that they abstain from murmuring. (RB 40 – and many other places)

It is interesting how the ideas connect. Why is it that I can spend a lot of time working with someone, and be successful, but I will get into a fight with less than 5 minutes conversation?

this reminds me of an incident a few years back. I was in my backyard doing some yardwork. My neighbor’s teen son was out shooting hoops with two or three of his buddies. And apart from the occasional cheer or jeer and some trash talk, there was little conversation. I in fact did not really notice them. But then up drive two girls, I am assuming girlfriends, and all of the sudden the afternoon became crowded with chatter. The girls were talking to each other and on their cell phones (I could see). It was constant chat. The boys had been out there for well over an hour with very little conversation, and certainly no self-disclosure. The women were a whirlwind of chatter.

I think I can avoid sexism here by pointing out that this is truly a male-female trait. Women have a greater propensity to self-disclosure, and in fact look for such things. Men seem to be more comfortable with activity-sharing (read the entry on Maverick Philosopher’s site linked above).

In terms of creating a healthy community how can this be done? Clearly our monastic forefathers (and mothers!) were distrustful of chatter. But why? Doubtlessly because the Bible says so (James, especially). But why does the Bible and James say so? What does silence, in this case the hard work of literally keeping your opinions to yourself, why is that such a negative?

Mostly because we do not know HOW to speak. As absurd as it sounds, we have no clue how to speak. We say the wrong thing, at the wrong time, to the wrong person. For example, I may complain to my wife about my boss or co-worker. Benedict would call that murmuring. This is an example of what I call “misplaced speech”. If I have an issue with my co-worker the correct person to talk to is the co-worker. Generally I talk to my wife to elicit sympathy. Or worse to judge others.

The only possible correct use of speech in this case, i.e. talking to my wife, would if I sought her advice in preparation to talking to my co-worker. But that is generally NOT how conversations go. I am not seeking advice, I am rather wanting to gossip, murmur, bicker, complain, and generally I am looking for someone to prop up my poor bruised ego.

Is there a time/place/person with whom I can talked about my bruised ego? Yes – God. This is what the psalms teach me. Go to God first and often. Talk openly about this. “Murmur to God” as it were. That is legitimate. But also listen to God. Have a dialog, not a monologue.

When talking to others there is also a Biblical pattern: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thess. 5)

God, let me words be few, and let them all be encouraging.


About spaceloom

An urban monk, and an experienced spiritual director with a Masters in Psychology. Married with two children. Want to know me better? Read my thoughts.
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