Control of Speech

Earlier this week I wrote about silence, but control of the tongue, which Benedict addresses in the portion of the Rule we read today, RB  7. 56 to 58, refers to something different. It is, so to say, a preparation for silence, a precondition. It requires effort, self-knowledge, discipline; and it is an essential component of humility because, of course, we naturally think our own ideas and viewpoints interesting, worth sharing with others. To choose not to speak or write (or blog or tweet or whatever), is not an act of negativity but a deliberate choice of something other, what Benedict elsewhere calls taciturnitas, restraint in speech.

Now the interesting thing about restraint in speech is that it implies understanding and communication, but sometimes without words, without being voiced, and at other times a very careful choice of words, an apt expression of what we think or believe. The words we do speak must always be good and wholesome, such as build up. To ensure that they are, we need time for reflection. How many of us have spoken before we thought and lived to regret it? What Benedict is urging upon us today is precisely that weighing of our words which will sometimes lead us to speak out and at other times to keep quiet. It is all about speech, not silence; and until we have learned something about speech, I do not think we can ever begin to understand silence.


9 thoughts on “Control of Speech”

  1. Thank you digitalnun for your taciturnitas. It’s hard to keep it zipped when you’re bursting with things you want to say, but I can’t see how there can be community without making space through restraint to give voice to others.

  2. I find it very hard to hold my tongue, as if what I had to say was truly earth-shattering, which it is hardly ever. I hope that as I grow older (I’m already a grandmother!), I learn to allow silence to show me whether or not to speak 🙂
    I will meditate on your words today. Thank you.

  3. I sometimes feel I know a thing, like speech or silence, for example, and then I find that I don’t know it at all. Or what I know only touches the surface. These short talks on aspects of RB are so much strong meat for the heart and mind.

    Here, at this blog place, it seems is where I go to learn about how little I actually know. And how rewarding it is to learn there is so much more to know about a ‘thing’.

  4. Thank you for sharing your insights and for your encouragement.

    David, Claire, I think we all find reining in our words difficult at times. One of the images Benedict uses in chapter 6, which is devoted to restraint of speech, is a clamp over the mouth, a quite violent image, if you think about it. I’m not sure that his concern is so much to give everyone a chance to express himself/herself as to make us concentrate on what matters. It’s a kind of progressive stripping away of inessentials, in speech as in anything else.

    Nancy, I trust my blogging emerges from silence and goes back into silence. It may be relevant to say I never write anything until I have prayed for at least half an hour and spent as long doing ‘lectio divina’. Usually I have prayed Vigils as well. I think that is important. I’m not a priest or theologian and I have never had any training to teach. I must rely on what St Benedict calls being ‘learned in the divine law’ and able to bring forth things both old and new.

    Margaret, your humility is an encouragement to us all!

  5. I have been thinking today about restricting my (frenetic) activity and reading this, this evening, makes me link silence, restraint of speech, and stepping back from certain involvements – it is helpful for me to think of weighing my activities to discern which are helpful for the growth of the Kingdom (for others or for myself) and which are hindering it.

  6. When I was young, we had the “Thumper” rule: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all. My father would phrase it a bit saltier, but when I saw the Disney vision of Bambi, I recognised the idea, and we named it after the little rabbit who recited it.
    This reminds me of the rule and intent, that sometimes it is best to not say anything. Given my propensity of shooting y mouth off when not necessary, it was good training.

  7. Yes, restraint of speech, activity and various other things, are not an end in themselves but a way of freeing ourselves from the way in which our lives can be dominated by noise, activity (even good activity!), etc. We use the word ‘discipline’ and sometimes forget that it literally teaches us something we need to know in order to be fully alive.

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