I once heard an anecdote about a meeting between Thomas Edison, who intended to sell his latest invention for US$3,000, and a potential buyer. The American inventor was hoping for more, but he told himself that if he was able to get US$2,000 for his product, he would agree to the sale. Once he got into the meeting, however, Edison was uncomfortable and stammered through his words. In the end, he said nothing. The buyer then seized his opportunity to make an offer: “Mr. Edison, I know that your invention is priceless, but we can only give you US$40,000 for it. Please do us a favour.” It was the silence in these negotiations that enabled Edison to sell his invention for a price far exceeding his initial expectations.
This is the miracle of being silent. The Vietnamese proverb “silence is golden” refers to the value of keeping silent at the right time and place. By staying quiet, a person is able to practice mindfulness and sensibly evaluate their situation. We can hear better, and our brain is able to process the information we receive to contribute to more unique and creative ideas.
Here’s another example: I still remember a song from last summer that lit up the iTunes music charts. It was a single named “A a a a a very good song.” However, when listeners played the tune, it turned out to be 10 minutes of complete silence. It sparked huge debates for months and electrified music critics due to its absolute silence.
The quiet can be a haven for people seeking respite from unnecessary gossip and scandal. A little much-needed quiet from time to time enables us to live our lives harmoniously.
However, silence is not always golden. At the wrong time and in the wrong place, silence can have negative effects. In the face of the bad and the ugly, or in a heated debate, one is supposed to voice their personal concerns. In cases like these, silence turns out to be irrational. As a result, there is another saying that goes: “It takes only one year to learn how to speak, but 10 years to learn how to stay silent.” Let us learn to be silent and make it an art of life. As Xunzi said: “Silence, listening, memorization, action and shrewdness are five different scales of wisdom.”
By Yen Le
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