A Time to Speak and a Time to Be Quiet

by Don McMinn

Ecclesiastes chapter three is a good commentary on time. The first sentence is: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Then it lists 14 situations in which we often must choose between two legitimate but opposite actions. For example, there’s a time to plant and a time to uproot, mourn and dance, pursue peace or make war. There is a proper time for each action.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the following phrase (which is one of the 14 mentioned) and trying to incorporate it into my life: There’s a time to be silent and a time to speak.

It’s an important life lesson and necessary people skill. When obeyed it brings peace; when ignored it creates problems.

There are at least two ways to disregard this advice.

Sometimes we speak when we should remain silent.

Do you filter your thoughts before they become speech? Some people don’t. They assume that just having a thought is reason enough to verbalize it. When left unchecked, they feel free to say everything they think. This is not good.

Before you speak, ask yourself:

    • Is this the right time to speak?
    • Is this the right place to speak?
    • Have I considered my audience?
    • Is what I’m about to say true? Necessary? Beneficial?
    • Will my words contribute to the conversation?
    • Will my words be redundant?
    • Are my words necessary?
    • When I speak, am I succinct or verbose?

Incorporating these eight filters would greatly reduce and refine our speech.

Sometimes we don’t speak when we should.

Remaining mute when we should speak is also problematic. Often, it takes both discretion and courage to speak up.

    • When you see injustice or unfairness, speak.
    • When an important decision is being made, contribute your thoughts.
    • Don’t be mute when your silence could be construed as agreement and you don’t concur with what is being said.
    • If someone is dominating the conversation, start talking and pursue equal time. (I dislike unbalanced conversations.)
    • When someone is being dogmatic about his opinions (politics, religion, current events), express your own.
    • When someone says something that is verifiably wrong, correct him or her.

If it’s not obvious whether you should speak or be silent, it’s probably best to remain mute.

To speak or not to speak… When you’re unsure, it’s better to err on the side of silence. It’s hard to retract words spoken, and you can always speak later.

Personal assessment — Do you struggle more with speaking too much or not speaking enough?

When I was young I was out of balance in that I was too quiet. In the past ten years I’ve tried to speak out more often. But lately, I’ve had to remind myself to hold my tongue and be silent.

This is a never-ending challenge that we will calibrate and fine-tune for the rest of our lives.

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