The Power of Silence

by Stuart Vail

What did you not say yesterday? Were there things you wish you had said but held back? Did you corral certain words, certain sentences, and hold them for another opportunity? Were some thoughts pushed below the surface, allowed to be changed with time, perhaps to be forgotten forever? How many “I love you’s” went unsaid that would have healed an aching heart? As with sleep, you cannot store them and build a reserve to tap into at a later date. Their power, their balming effect, quickly dissipates with disuse. They work only in the moment that they were intended. Left idle, their potential is gone, the object of their delivery untouched by kindness, by tenderness.

“I love you.” It is so simple to say. Three words. There are many other opportunities to say them, but none more important and possessing more potential than now. Words can have the opposite effect if left unsaid, almost as if they were spoken as opposites. Silence can equal the opposite. “I love you” unsaid can become “I don’t love you” out loud. Your most tender and endearing thoughts, if not allowed to fly free from the prison of your mind, may silently tell someone that you don’t care. How many times has your silence told your partner or child that you didn’t love them? How often has an unsaid word created the opposite effect? Think of all the lives that would have been changed had armies of sentences been allowed to roam free. Those who go through life cloaked in spoken endearments, wrapped and comforted in the voiced love of others, are truly blessed. The power of the spoken word is mighty. The power of silence can be mightier still.

Countless millions of words have been written and spoken since the beginning of human history. A total of all the words in all the libraries of the world, past and present, and every word of every conversation, idle chatter, lecture, broadcast, and speech in history would be dwarfed by the vast legions of words left unsaid, those rendered impotent by silence. Not that it is a good thing to instantly speak every thought that comes to mind: chaos would ensue. We have to be selective of our words and deliver them into the pattern of conversation where appropriate; however, it is our mental editing that isolates certain words and thoughts as unspeakable, and sentences them to die (pun intended).

Words can change the world. They can incite, torture, kill, comfort, heal, encourage, humiliate, anger, inspire, sadden, give joy, make one laugh, and they can forever change one’s life. There are many kinds of words: “In other words,” four-letter-words, words that are read, words to make you blue; there is the spoken word, the written word, the forgotten word; we put words in someone’s mouth, and we don’t have the words to express.... Words, words, everywhere, and not a thought to speak. And the unsaid words—oh, how they could have changed the course of history! Would they have altered the destructive lives of John Wilkes Booth, Adolph Hitler, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jeffrey Daumer, or the Son of Sam? Would the unspoken “I love you’s” have given them a new lease on life had those three words been bestowed upon them?

The power of words and their silent cousins: “What did you say?” “Nothing.” Think of the consequences had that “nothing” actually been, “I was wrong. I’m sorry. I apologize and want to make it up to you.” Instead, a relationship was probably hurt forever, or even eventually terminated. “Ouch, that hurts,” if left unsaid, can become one of many familiar wedges in a marriage, or any relationship. Not expressed, it can fester inside, becoming worse and much larger over time than it originally was. It also will accumulate other unsaid “ouches,” and grow to become a very powerful “I hate your guts.” It can eat at one’s insides if not voiced. Actually, its release will help the relationship; its incarceration will destroy.

Don’t withhold. Let the hostages go. Release the words while they still hold their meaning. Release them before they change in silence. The loneliest place in the world, more desolate and forbidding than the blackest cell of any prison, is a silent marriage/partnership. All the city lights from Manhattan to Bangkok could probably be powered by the turbulent energy of the silent, but unrelenting, dialogues churning in the minds of an unhappy couple. And it would be possible, as well, to freeze solid the oceans of the world by the dynamics between the two.

Allow your thoughts to be heard. You are the most powerful person on earth. You alone possess the ability to change your world, make friends, and influence people. You have the key. Use your words for good. They can help you. Don’t withhold them, for in their muted state they can turn on you. Life is a fine balance of releasing the right words in the right order at the right time, and deciding which words are truly better left unsaid.

© 2001 Stuart Vail

"Camelia" ©2002 Joanne Warfield


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