One of the hardest things to keep is silence. Calvin Coolidge was wonderful at keeping it, so much so that a lot of what we know of him has to do with his ability to say a lot in a few words. And he maintained that was good for him.
“I have never been hurt by what I have not said,” he is quoted as saying.
Another Coolidge quote: “Four-fifths of all our troubles would disappear, if we would only sit down and keep still.” One of my favorite Coolidge-isms is this one: “It takes a great man to be a good listener.”
In that respect, I am not a great man. On Sunday, I was talking to a friend, and he was telling me things about himself I never knew before. They were interesting things. I enjoyed listening to them. But I also was involved in something else, which was thinking of things to say to him.
I went to a class on listening once when I was younger, and the thing I learned that stuck with me the most was that one can’t listen and think of what one is going to say all at the same time.
“You have to turn on your ears and shut down your mouth,” the instructor said. “Your thinker has to be concentrating on what the other person is saying, not on what you are going to say to him.”
The Navajos are known for keeping absolute silence while listening to another talk. And when the talker is through, the listener remains silent, just in case the talker has something else to say. That is a little tough for the rest of us to deal with, because we aren’t used to “dead air.” When somebody isn’t jabbering, we somehow think something is wrong.
Sometimes, the best response in a conversation is to ask a question about what another has just said. Let that person talk some more.
“You can’t know too much, but you can say too much,” said Silent Cal. Amen to that.