We think when we say nothing at all that we are, in fact, saying nothing.
But silence speaks when inte
See what I mean?
You weren’t quite sure what to do with that abrupt silence were you? I was just starting a sentence — or was I? Had I made a mistake? Was I getting sloppy with my editing? Had I fallen and couldn’t get back up?
I don’t know exactly what you may have thought, but I’ll bet your first reaction wasn’t a positive one.
So, true confession. I’ve noticed at times that some other men seemed to keep their distance from me. Not obvious stuff, just acting as if I had mildly offended them — but I had no idea why. One day I shared what I had observed with a friend and the friend shared an opinion as to why:
Friend: “I think they might be intimidated by you.”
Me: “What? By me? Don’t be silly. I didn’t even say anything!”
Friend: “Exactly. But everybody knows you’re always thinking something. That’s what you do. So they just fill in the blanks of your silence with their own thoughts about what you might be thinking.”
I felt like Charlie Brown after Lucy had yanked the football. Again. So do you want me to talk or shut up? Either way I have a potential communication problem because everything speaks — including silence.
Choose Your Own Adventure
When we say nothing, we create a situation that’s a bit like those classic choose-your-own-adventure books that were all the rage back in the day. (Notice how I’m silent about just how many days it’s been.) When I choose NOT to speak, everyone is left to fill in the blank with whatever is handy. And let’s face it. Most of us have more fear, uncertainty, and insecurity lying around than we know what to do with.
So in the blank it goes. And suddenly we find our relationship on page 67 facing some crazy three-headed monster and wondering how we got there.
My friend Dick Savidge wisely noted that when we say nothing, others not only fill in the blank, but they do so out of their own insecurites. Consequently, we end up with the Stay-Puft marshmallow man tromping through our lives because we forfeited the chance to direct the shaping influences in our relationships. Then we have no choice but to cross the streams — and everything ends up in a flaming sticky mess.
So What Is Your Silence Saying?
- What are you saying today by not having lunch with that co-worker?
- What silent e-mail have you already sent by delaying your actual response?
- What message did your child receive when you walked by last night without asking about her day?
- How did your spouse fill in the blank when you grunted through dinner and plopped down in front of the television for the Olympic badminton finals?
- How damaging will your silence be in that next committee meeting when you choose not to go there and make yourself vulnerable?
Silence speaks. And with all due respect to Keith Whitley, I’m not so sure you do say it best when you say nothing at all.
Have you ever misunderstood someone’s silence? What about having your own silence misunderstood? Share your story with a comment here so we can all grow with abundant faith.