There’s a time to speak and a time to be quiet

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.

16 Replies to “There’s a time to speak and a time to be quiet”

  1. I struggle with interrupting other people when they are talking. I try to wait until they pause at least to take a breath. I grew up in a family with 8 children, so maybe that is a factor.

    1. Ethel, the only time I interrupts someone is if they are being obnoxious in dominating the conversation, in which case I think my interruption is actually helping them to be a better conversationalists.
      Take care, Don

  2. A well balanced article Don. Although it might veer slightly from your point, a conversation will also be more beneficial if the tone and emotion are at the right level. How far apart are you and the speaker if there is a goal to be achieved? Are you able to diffuse anger or bitterness?

    An old saying also comes to mind “Least said, soonest mended.”

    1. Thanks, Angela, for adding good insights. You’re right, tone and emotion (and body language) are important. An edgy voice or rollin of the eyes can shut a conversation down. Take care. Don

  3. Don,
    This is so well written and thought out – and such great advice. In today’s world, everyone is an expert on everything. It really is a skill to filter one’s own thoughts before they become words spoken that later we regret. For me, as a younger person, I would never, never speak up. Then as an adult out of college I would speak up only rarely , but only when backed into a wall. After age 50 I soon realized that I could speak up. Now as an older adult, I am sorry – no stronger words, – I regret that I did not speak up on so many occasions in my life. This applies to all kinds of situations with family, with work, with other musicians, etc.
    Hidden in these verses is a peace and wisdom that comes when one can live by these verses and be happy with yourself. Amen brother.

    1. Thanks, Garry. I, too, have been inordinately quiet most of my life. Just in the past 10 years have I worked on speaking out. (Now, I often speak out too much…oh well…the search for balance.) Thanks for being my friend.

  4. Don, this is such a great reminder. The cartoon made me smile, and I appreciate the two lists regarding whether to speak or be silent. With your post, I hearkened back to teaching Bible memory verses in children’s church. When the morning’s verse was Ps. 141:3, one 2nd grade boy stood and recited, with emphasis: “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth and SHUT the door of my mouth.” Our grandmotherly director confined her laughter to her eyes, glanced at me and said, “Well, that’s the right idea.” As passionate as I can get about today’s issues, I often need the Spirit’s help to SHUT the door of my mouth.

  5. I enjoyed reading your comments regarding when to speak and when to be silent.

    However, I am never good at making my comments heard. People seem to not value what I say. Therefore, many times my conversations are not what people want to hear.

    1. Joe, thanks for taking the time to respond. Your voice does need to be heard. Start working on taking the initiative to enter conversations. If people are dominating, just find a time when they’re taking a breath (:) and jump right in. Don

  6. I cannot agree with the fourth point on when to speak up. This seems like “tit for tat” or, worse yet, purposely repeating a self- centered behavior. As my mama always said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right”

    1. Hi Mary, I’m not sure which point you’re referring to. Is it the one about what to do if someone is dominating the conversation? If so, I’m not suggesting that we dominate the conversation, just try to have a balanced one, so that both parties get the chance to talk. Thanks for taking the time to write. Don

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