Is silence a sign of wisdom?

Profile photo of BriGuy BriGuy (@iambrian) 4 years, 2 months ago

“Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.” -Lao Tzu
I’ve come across many quotes similar to this one. I don’t quite understand what they mean. How does being silent exemplify knowledge? Or do quotes like this represent something completely different. Any ideas?

November 5, 2012 at 11:29 pm
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Shankar_S (81) (@pikali) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

You never know ! No one is a 100% introvert or a 100% extrovert ! I know dumb introverts and brilliant extroverts. Actually, who am I to say who and what is dumb ? As I said earlier, you never know !

Cheers !

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Nick (553) (@splashartist) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

@iambrian, “loud on the outside, empty on the inside” – Chinese proverb

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Filip (2,816)M (@filipek) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

Speaking is silver, silence is gold.

Yes, a lot of people speak without actually saying something.@iambrian,

You have to understand these kind of quotes in the right context though.

You know the kind of people who, at (birthday) parties, seem to get the whole crowd amused? The people who have all these kind of ‘interesting’ stories. The people who are looked up to at these parties, because they got so much to tell?

If you will actually listen to them, you will see/hear that most of them only talk about gibberish, chit-chat kind of things. They do not really say something, they simply talk because they are afraid of the silence, afraid of living in the present moment, therefore they distract themselves by ‘amusing’ the crowd.

They do not think before they say something, they simply talk for the sake of talking. But are those wise things they are talking about? Most of the time they are not. I speak from experience, cause I used to be like that as well. It is nice to have people looking up to you at parties, or whereever you are, being the middle point of interest.

Well guess what, it does not give you any satisfaction on the long term whatsoever. You will not get rid off your fears/anxieties that you are covering by acting like you are acting. In the end, you will still be the shy, introvert guy, but you will have created a great facade around your little ego.
The outside world will think you are cool and you will have some kind of ‘imaginary’ and ‘fake’ status.

Guess what, you will still remain the introvert and shy, unhappy guy. This is not the way to come out of it, it is merely a facade. It is hard and difficult to acknowledge, but once you do, you will see that true happiness does not rely on having a status which you show by acting like you act.

Look at US televisions and the programs that broadcast. Look where the emphasis lies. Is it about simple amusement? Or is it about intellectual stimulation and/or development of oneself?

The reason why I stopped watching television is because this, in my opinion, negative trend has flown over to Europe decades ago. Over the years more and more programs on television were designed merely to ‘entertain’ and ‘amuse’ rather than pass on some knowledge. Television makes you stupid, it really does. You create a certain image of how the world is supposed to be, according to these fake values. You get indoctrinated and manipulated unconsciously without even realizing it.

Anyway, I am getting off topic, so I better quit talking and enjoy the silence.

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Healing Chime Audio (106) (@healingchime) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

@iambrian, being silent can mean being free of desire. if you are quiet you are not desiring to express and continue on about your personal story and observations.

talking a lot just turns into banter, lots of talk, and the false belief that you are in control.

In silence you see things as they are, in unity with everything. Google Papaji, or better yet go to youtube. Silence is your nature, You are silence.

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Anonymous (37) (@) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

Kind of goes along with the old Bukowski quote, “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.” But that also implies that every introvert is just shy, and any introvert will tell you that’s not true. They just prefer to save their speech and interaction for when it’s important.

I’m quite an introvert and I tend to relate well with other introverts, but it takes all types of people to make the world work. I can appreciate extroverts just as much, only for different reasons. Silence is enlightening but fun can be necessary, and the loud extroverts seem to be experts on that.

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pat (169) (@epath) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

Sometimes. Sometimes it just means a person is a coward. Or it might be the better part of valor. Depends on the situation.

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YHVH (462) (@spaceghost) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

@iambrian, I can’t keep a conversation to save my life, but I think alot. I never claim to be smart though. I don’t even listen very well. When I am required to speak I have all these words planned but what comes out is usually not close to what I wanted to say or I trip over my words. So I can’t give you an answer.

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Anonymous (2,653) (@) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” – Mark Twain

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PRAKASH (236) (@lesterxp) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

@healingchime, True that. Love Papaji, Love the world. In silence.

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Judy G S Q (44) (@decaffeinated) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

actually there was a Mandarin movie or a series I’m sorry I can’t remember and it’s based basically on that quote. what the quote means is that those who are truly smart will not go around and boastfully tell everyone that they know the answer to the secret that everyone else is looking for while the stupid ones will.

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Anonymous (0) (@) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

Maybe, but only if speaking could be a sign of wisdom the same.
I guess how you mean it, it’s important to specify that it’s the chosen, deliberate silence – there the discussion can go on. But from the outside, you can almost never tell whether it was actually the person’s choice (they do not wish to or do not have anything to say) or they’re just, like @epath said, cowards, afraid to speak.

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Ben (148) (@cognizantelephant) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

Knowledge is like a pocket watch, you only show it to those who ask for it.

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Kidd (1,058) (@kidd) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

Wisdom needs to come with spoiler alerts.

I say that because I think the wisest of people let people learn on their own time in their own way instead of forcing life lessons onto them. People who boast and try to teach you a life lesson through simple conversation…well, they obviously don’t know to give people their own time.

The ones who know are silent and patient and have faith that others will figure it out, eventually. They know not to take too much pride in finding the answer first, because it’s not a race.

At least, that’s what I take from it, though I don’t know how well I explained myself, lol

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passenger (6) (@passenger) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

@iambrian, the frase “silence is a sign of wisdom” is not entirely true nor entirely wrong but it would be more precise this way:

I think truly wise people don´t talk/are silent for two reasons:
1. because they know that everything is relative and one can not express ones opinion because of being aware of every other opinion or reality being true as well.
2. because the more a person knows, (and knowledge, may it be facts or theories resulting out of experience are the fundament for wisdom) the more he is aware of actually knowing nothing (compared to all the knowledge out there one will never learn and comprehend in one lifetime).

BUT: not speaking/being silent can have many reasons that have nothing to do with wisdom. for example insecurity, shyness, feeling of inferiority, feeling different or misplaced etc. etc.

so one can say:

a truly wise person is silent….
(but still a wise person might have a preaching complex and actually talk a lot when people are listening. just look at prophets, enlightened etc.)

….but a silent person is not always wise!

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TaylorMK (0) (@tkrutina) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

I think in a sense yes, however I think it all depends on context. Just because someone is very social and is always the one who amuses the crowd with their stories does mean that they are ignorant. Some people have many sides to them and depending on context of the situation depends on how someone may act. That same person who seems to never stop talking in a social scene is completely capable of having incredibly intelligent thoughts. They may still sit in silence watching the world and gaining more knowledge, learning that they will always be learning one day, and the next be the social butterfly.
People don’t always feel as if they need to let others know their wisdom. Their wisdom is gained by them, but because they have wisdom doesn’t mean they can’t have normal casual conversation about whatever pops into their head.
Just what i’ve learned in my experience

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Anonymous (202) (@) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”
― Rumi

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Aiden (63) (@aidenblair) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

What if you aren’t in fact ‘stupid’, but your intent is to mislead the foolish on a ‘wild goose chase’?

Think of the story of The Fool in the tarot; He sets out, in awe, looking for answers, without actually looking where he’s going. But through trial and error, he finds his own answer (or enlightenment, if you will).

When one is deceived, one either remains ignorant to it, never moving forward, or one becomes aware of it, and then seeks out the truth.
Therefore, through misdirection, one is forced to find their true direction, or are doomed to remain the fool.

My interpretation of Lao Tzu?
Those who know, do not speak (often). Those who (often) speak, do not know.

Though, be careful, as I may be the ‘Devil’s Advocate’, seeking to mislead you. :)

Or I could be the fool who speaks too often.

Is it better to be the fool(noun) or the fool(verb)?
Is there a difference?

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BirdFlyingHigh (152) (@birdflyinghigh) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

@iambrian, If the statement is true, can someone answer your question and still be wise?

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GWK (2) (@gileswilliam) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

Yes. I think @filipek had the right idea. In a situation when people begin to talk about controversial, philosophical or profound thoughts and ideas, the wisest will always listen and wait for an opportune moment to provide insight. In these scenarios, the conversation is generally led by the people who HAVE to make their points be heard and end up trying to shout over each other rather than listen to contrasting arguments and points of view.

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Egarim (361)C (@egarim) 4 years, 2 months ago ago


The quote is trying to convey the idea that those that understand something have already resolved the information inside of their head. The ones that are deliberating and speaking are usually looking for answers. The silent ones don’t contribute because they already know.

Think of it like a math class. The kids that interrupt constantly during the class to ask silly questions are not stupid, they just don’t know yet, they don’t understand it. The silent ones are just observing because they are on top of the material.

A further observation of the quote is that those that are silent and not waiting for their turn to talk are able to better listen and thus they know a lot more. Two people arguing and shouting leaves both people too busy talking to know or understand anything about what they’re fighting for. The silent one takes in everything from both sides and sees it with a clear mind.

Just a thought.

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morgan (2) (@ammcq) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

Silence could represent wisdom, but I think silence can be negative, too.

I’m not sure if these are really examples of wisdom, but there are definitely times when you don’t have to say anything. Sometimes it’s better to keep your opinion to yourself rather than get in a petty argument. It could be wise not to spread rumors, or share someone’s secret, or criticize someone. It’s also good to appreciate silence. This is silly, but I picture old men on a peaceful mountaintop, not saying anything because they have such a great understanding of life and seem to communicate without speaking.

And then there are other times it’s important to speak up, such as when you are being treated unfairly or in the case of something you believe in! It’s good to ask questions in order to learn… and it’s good to share wisdom with others! Or maybe wisdom is something that you can only gain through experience, so you should let others learn for themselves rather than trying to influence them. Kind of rambling here. You got me thinking, though.

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JoseValera (0) (@josevalera) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

the more you know, the more you know that you don’t know, so the people that know the most tend to be the people that think they know the least, and the people that don’t know much are the people that think they know the most, and in this case this type of people tend to be or very dogmatic or very overpowering, they tend to be the people that never acknowledge that they’re wrong, and that is why these type of people tend to be the ones that are always talking and never listening.

(mi first language is not english so bare with me)

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St Emilion (2,989) (@manimal) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

It’s actually really simple. It’s taoist stuff.

When you speak, you project. When you project you do not know. Only when your mind is still you know.

It’s really that simple. People have misinterpreted it in all kinds of weird ways to imply all kinds of shit… but they obviously haven’t understood one bit of what Lao Tzu is saying.

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TheRealist (0) (@therealist420) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

“Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”
People who know better don’t speak up, people who don’t wont shut up.

this is why you only see idiots on the news being interviewed,

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Aiden (63) (@aidenblair) 4 years, 2 months ago ago

By saying speech is projection, you’re also implying that Lao Tzu was projecting whenever he spoke.
Perhaps speech, when used properly, is more than just projecting, it’s relaying the knowledge you came across when you were still.
It’s a sort of balance. The more time you spend speaking, the less time you spend contemplating, therefore the less information you have available to relay; this is true also of the converse.
However, since all thought, experience, and learning is relative (Einsteins special theory of somethingorother i forget…), everything I have learned for myself to be true, is not the same knowledge and truth that you yourself, nor anyone else, has learned.
Speaking, on the part of those who continuously seek to learn, is simply a tool used to provoke others to find their own relative interpretation of the knowledge that that person is conveying.

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