Silence and Strategy
Silence and Strategy
I am indebted to Salman Bokhari for prompting this Daily Paradox. The expression of – and therefore the responsibility for – the written thoughts is entirely mine.
If you’ve seen Stephen Sackur’s Hard Talk you will know that tough investigative interviewing can be done politely and with civility even when you don’t like what your subject is saying. Even when, perhaps, you don’t like the person you are interviewing. His curiosity is never doused by affection or dislike. He follows a great tradition of investigative journalists. A brilliant one was John Freeman who ran a BBC programme called Face to Face. He taught me the power of silence by demonstrating how he had revealed a prejudice on the part of one of Britain’s most famous lawyers, Hartley Shawcross, by remaining silent.
Silence is more than a journalist’s weapon. Great thinkers, contemplatives, CEOs and senior military commanders all require periods of silence. It is when they contemplate their strategy. Watch two world-famous chess players. They will be silent, sometimes for quite long periods, while they project their opponent’s moves and establish their own.
Today we seem to have rejected silence in favour of excessive noise. Some networking events that I attend are so noisy that people cannot speak to each other above the din. Quite apart from the damage this does to hearing, there seems little point in establishing contact if no thoughts or questions are to be exchanged. A silent network is a real contradiction unless you live in an enclosed, silent religious order.
People fear silence. It brings them face-to-face with themselves and they often don’t much care for what they see. This is partly because they have been raised to be guilty, partly because they see that they lack purpose. Nothing is more frightening than contemplating an abyss. What they don’t realise is that silence is the perfect antidote to both guilt and pointlessness. Even highly successful people, used to leading their businesses in successful strategies, seldom realise that the most important strategy in life is your own.
Speech, we know, is powerful. There is too much of it now. I see and listen to whole swathes of gobbledegook from people who would make much bigger impressions by asking a few, relevant questions. They have simply never been taught to. Speech is powerful but its power is increased by silence. Here’s what Nelson Mandela said: “It is never my custom to use words lightly. If twenty-seven years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die”.
Silence as a medium is threatened. Jean Arp, the German-French sculptor, painter, poet, and abstract artist said: “Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation. Tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego.”
Perhaps we can contemplate what Anne Morrow Lindbergh said: “A note of music gains significance from the silence on either side.” And we can add Martin Fraquhar Tupper’s comment that “Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech.”
Silence is sometimes the best answer.