Practicing the Good Life with Ben Franklin - Virtue #2 - Silence

 
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Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
— Benjamin Franklin

Our new Weekly Series explores improving your life through character growth and a new habit of practicing virtues. To read about why we are exploring virtue, click here.
 

Practicing the Good Life with Ben Franklin
Virtue #2 - Silence

Today, we are often pressed for time, stressed, and subject to daily annoyances. These frustrations are then frequently taken out on those around us without a second thought. How many times have we responded with a snarky comment or passive aggressive response at a family member, co-worker, partner, or even stranger serving us a meal because we are frustrated and irritated? Why do we do this?

In his pursuit of virtue, Ben Franklin was seeking to practice the virtue of proper and appropriate speech, which is especially challenging when we lose patience, are stressed out and overwhelmed. Franklin was not holding back all speech or taking a vow of silence, rather he was seeking to discern the appropriate time and words to speak. Essentially, he was seeking the virtue of practicing positive communication.

What does practicing positive communication even look like? It means taking a moment to respond, not react. I t means not speaking unless you have something positive or uplifting to add to the conversation. How often do we seek to trade gossip around the office or criticize someone else in an attempt to make ourselves look and feel better? Words can be powerful, and the words we speak over others and ourselves can impact our emotional health, well-being, and vitality.

Recently, a U.S. school conducted an experiment testing the power of speech. Two identical living plants were set up next to each other in one of the main hallways of the school. In front of one plant, a sign instructed students to speak to the plant using critical language and a negative tone. The instructions on the other plant asked students to praise, compliment, and speak positively towards it. A time-lapsed camera was set up capture the progress of both plants, and after one month, the plant receiving negative communication had significantly darkened and withered, and the positive plant was green and flourishing.

Taking this practice in your own life, challenge yourself to think about the areas where you might be able to improve or increase your positive communications on a daily basis. Find ways to affirm others for their presence, their friendship, their thoughtfulness, and their love or concern. You may also try speaking positive affirmations over yourself, as research has noted the positive benefits of practicing self-compassion and speaking loving-kindness over oneself. You may desire to repeat a word or phrase each day, such as “I am worthy and deserving of love,” or “I’m doing the best I can today.” Critical words can have a negative and invalidating effect on others and even ourselves, and we often don’t stop to realize how much we are creating an environment where growth and positivity are unlikely to occur.

This week, you can practice the virtue of silence by refraining from critical or reactive speech, and instead use the opportunity to take a breath, count to 10, and speak something positive that will add value to others and yourself.


Enjoy the Silence

  1. Try to go 5 days without speaking criticism, judgments, reactions, or gossip unnecessarily

  2. Don’t criticize yourself if you forget your virtue practice, instead remind yourself that this is new and will take some time. Remember, the idea is progress, not perfection

  3. Keep a journal during your experience. This will help you better process the experience of letting go of unnecessary speech. Make notes about the challenges you face as well, why you speak what you do, what you’re learning, and what you did