the grace of reticence

finger over lips2

Grace. From the Latin gratia, favor, from gratus, pleasing. Reticence. Being reticent (from the Latin reticens, present participle of reticēre, to be silent).

The air is filled with human speech. In whatever direction I turn my head, my ears are singed by the sound, the noise of thunderous talking, drowning out the dulcet tones of kindly intentioned words.

A few recent examples.

In the face of the ISIS threat, critics of American foreign policy find fresh purpose to comment on what are deemed our president’s characteriological failings in competency and courage…

In response to opponents of Russian involvement in the unrest in eastern Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, short on subtlety and long on menace, reminds the West of the readiness of his country’s nuclear arsenal…

In airborne crowded aisles and crammed seats, testy passengers clash rowdily over already too small spaces, leading to route diversions, emergency landings and debarking, and, in some instances, arrests of the aerial combatants…

In the heightened heat and humidity of the dog days of August, sweaty customers freely take out their frustrations on store counter clerks, restaurant wait staff, and fellow drivers with loud voices demanding this or that and the blare of heavy-handed horns.

In response, I close my eyes, muttering softly, “We have lost the grace of reticence.”


There is more afoot and at stake here than a rejection, whether casual or more conscious, of that well known aphorism (or bromide, depending on one’s view of its value): If you don’t have anything good to say, then say nothing. It strikes me that the common element at the core of these and like incidents of deliberately less than sanguine, edifying speech is power and powerlessness.

We humans, I think (and I, I know), yearn to exercise power (read: control). Truth (problem) is that life, ever-characterized by that consternating conspiracy of chance, circumstance, and our choices (in other words, we have some influence over only one-third of this immutable triumvirate) testifies to our impotence, which, when pressed, we strive to conceal with demonstrations of (pick a word: ability, authority, capability, command), oft employing the ready weaponry of our words.

More truth (and problem) is this approach rarely rectifies the situation which provokes the critical word, for it alway falls short of the greatest aim, reviving or restoring the power to act efficaciously, the greater end, lending aid toward the discovery of a mutually serviceable resolution, and, at the least, acknowledging honestly our common share in the human state.

I wonder. What if all of life’s strugglers in whatever great or small arena of conflict rediscovered, even for an instant, the grace of reticence?

2 thoughts on “the grace of reticence

  1. We’ve definitely lost the grace of reticence. We so easily throw our words around as weapons, often not thinking of or caring about the consequences. What a wonderful world it would be if we could get the grace back.


  2. A wonderful world, indeed. On this score, and, I think, in the case of so many others, the 12-step mantra comes to mind: Fake it ’til you make it. Meaning, in this case, I may lack the grace of reticence, yet in a moment where my harsh word (no matter how much I may feel its depth of truth) may not help, let me pretend to possess the kindness of silence. Perhaps in that spirit, I may be enveloped with the real thing!


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