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Musings for the Modern Mystic


In Defense of Silence: 3 Reasons to Quit Having Conversations that Don’t Matter

“Our young people, raised under old rules of courtesy, never indulged in the present habit of talking incessantly and all at the same time. To do so would have been not only impolite, but foolish; for poise, so much admired as a social grace, could not be accompanied by restlessness. Pauses were acknowledged gracefully and did not cause lack of ease or embarrassment.”

~ Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Sioux

Silence is a virtue. One that is far too overlooked in most of the conversations that take place in western culture. Not only are we severely absent its presence in most areas of our lives, if not all, it is generally perceived as awkward and unsettling, and is therefore unwanted.

Apart from close friendships or familial relationships, its overall perception is one of not being ‘ok’. When one is silent, it is taken to mean that something is wrong. In most social situations and conversations it is avoided, even in the smallest amounts. One must always be ‘on’ in our culture, and this is shown by being talkative, quick-witted and busy.

Although it is only now beginning to be recognized as such, this inability to remain silent is a psychological dysfunction indicative of our deep inability to be at peace with each other and the world. Think about it. How comfortable can we possibly be if we can’t even tolerate a natural lull in conversation for a few moments? If we need to chatter incessantly — even about things that we don’t really care about — just to avoid the discomfort of being alone with our thoughts for a minute or two? This is a serious sign of emotional immaturity. Our minds are very untrained.

If we have any hope of coming into reality and really beginning to open ourselves up to the world and our place in it, we must begin infusing silence into the spaces around us, whenever it is appropriate, in whatever conversations that we intuitively feel deem it.

Yes, this can be very tough, and yes, there will undoubtedly be awkward moments. That is, until there aren’t anymore. That’s when you’ll know you’re really beginning to get it — when it stops feeling awkward and starts feeling, simply, right.

You already know the conversations that don’t matter. They’re indicated by some very clear signs: boredom, complaining, back-talking and ego-boosting, just to name a few.

There’s no point in allowing them to continue through your participation in them, even in the name of politeness. In fact, true politeness demands you dismantle them with silence.

If you’re having trouble with all this, here are 3 reasons to help persuade you.

1) It Helps People See Themselves

Growing silent in a conversation that doesn’t matter brings a deeper awareness to the topic itself. If someone is complaining, for instance, or gossiping, enabling the conversation with supportive comments only fuels the unconsciousness that gave rise to it in the first place.

Deeply listening, on the other hand, and not feeding into the cues most pointless conversations are imbued with with anything other than an aware presence, a polite nod or a ‘yes’ will have a tendency to wake the other person up. It will cause them, too, to actually listen to what they’re saying, and become aware of their tone and the emotion behind the words.

While it may be hard at first, if you pull it off, congratulations — you’ve just shed a bit of light on an otherwise ‘unconscious’ situation.

2) It Spreads Acceptance

When someone is obviously talking just because it would be awkward not to, you almost have a duty to remain silent. You owe it to them to demonstrate that it’s OK to be quiet. It’s OK to be calm. It’s OK to be whatever it is you’re being in the moment, even if that’s NOT being OK — as long as you’re aware of it.

There is no need for a running commentary of everything that is presently happening or everything that may be running through their minds at the moment. We are all awake, aware, here, with each other. Everything is OK. Breathe. Observe. Smell the air. Taste your food or drink. Listen to your mind. Feel your feelings.

Now, after all that, if something truly relevant or insightful or passionate comes up, say it. Start a conversation that matters. Otherwise, what’s the point?

You don’t have to be rude in doing this. You can use the simple techniques of aware listening and minimal responses cited in step one, and you can teach others by remaining continually devoted to this practice. If you have a chatterbox acquaintance or friend, they will slowly get the picture. They will slowly adopt the silence.

3) It Causes Alignment to Take Place

While it is an obvious and much over-stated point these days, there is only now. But it is of such paramount importance that it bears repeating. (That’s why we continue to hear it all the time.) This moment is all you’ll ever have.

As the funny buddhist creed goes: “This is it. Nothing happens next.”

We all know this is true. Even the moments we anticipate can only happen in the same field we are occupying now. It is impossible for any scientist or philosopher to debate this. It is one of the deepest truths.

Knowing this, why would you possibly spend the only moment in existence, your experience of life itself, participating in a conversation you don’t want to have? If the topic seems pointless to you, or if it is unnecessarily negative, why bother with it?

Again, there is no need to be rude, but there is also no need to insult your experience of the present moment. The Dalai Lama has been known to leave interviews at ‘inopportune’ times, ignoring convention and leaving hosts flustered. Why?

Because he’s in alignment with something else — something most of the waking world isn’t. 

Beginning this practice will inevitably leave those who have a tendency to trap you in conversations you don’t want to be in behind. If you stop engaging them, they’ll stop engaging you.

There is no need to be a dumping ground for everyone’s every whim, simply because you may be a good listener and a polite conversationalist. Bring silence to those who need it most and you’ll find they’ll stop gravitating to you, leaving you with more room for those in better alignment with your personal truth.

Kyle McMillan
Kyle McMillan


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