2 min read

Learning to Say Nothing

Learning to Say Nothing
Photo by Bermix Studio / Unsplash
“Unlucky is the man who is born with great expectations, and who finds nothing in life quite up to the mark... One of the best things a man can bring into the world with him is a natural humility of spirit. About the next best thing he can bring, and they usually go together, is an appreciative spirit — a loving and susceptible heart.” -John Burroughs

I was thinking about the above quote from John Burroughs after listening to an interview with professor Alan Jacobs from Baylor University. When asked about the pandemic and what voices he thinks are helpful for understanding what is going on, he responded:

“The ones who aren’t saying anything right now. The ones who are mulling it over. It will be a long time before we know who the trusted voices will be,” (my paraphrase).

You can replace the word pandemic for justice issues, racial inequality, CRT, politics, or a variety of tertiary theological issues coming out of the church.

What would it mean for a person or community of people to mull things over? Jacobs said earlier in the interview of how a speaker at a software conference used the 5 Minute Rule. Before you spouted out your opinions on something or someone, take five minutes. Not terrible advice.

In an age of instant response forced upon us by the algorithm gods of social media and a 24-7 news cycle and a globally connected digital economy, what if we took five minutes? What if we paused, reflected, and most times said nothing?

But back to the Burroughs quote. What rides and hums along our warped souls is the desire to be right. A desire to fight. A perceived enemy living on the other side of the screen or the street. Not a “humility of spirit.”

Burroughs is suggesting we need a humble posture and spirit that finds life and the world interesting. We don’t always have to have the last say and be right in every circumstance. We can allow curiosity to ask more questions, and give fewer answers.

When we gain a spirit of humility and wonder, it’s hard to hate people we barely know and disagree with. A heart and soul that is curious and interested in people and the world feels more like the children Jesus talked about entering the Kingdom.

And when we can connect that awe and wonder with an appreciative and thankful spirit, I think we’ll find better ways forward than the current mess we find ourselves. When apparently everyone is an expert on everything from Ukraine to vaccines and theories out of German universities from the 40s.

Nothing is wrong with having opinions. How does the saying go? Opinions are like belly buttons because we all have them? But the holier-than-thou and arrogant posture where friends become enemies is not helpful to a flourishing society. We don’t all have to agree to flourish, by the way. But we have to get along as we share the same homes, neighborhoods, schools, churches, and planet.

I’m going with a life that isn’t just something to tolerate until death. I’m going on the search for beauty and grace and truth in its various forms… I’m going with a humble spirit… and I’m going with appreciation as the whole thing hums along by grace.

I might even try the five minute rule and learn to not have the last say.

-RJP