Nobody has ever told me I need to be more assertive. Nobody has ever told me I need to speak up more. I’ve never been told “you let too many things go.” I once had someone (yes it was a boy) tell me that when I got married I would pick up a dirty sock my husband left on the floor and yell “You left this dirty sock on the floor! This means you don’t respect our marriage!” Zero to 60 in fifteen seconds. To be perfectly honest, that criticism stuck with me for a long time. It was always there to pull me out of a really great mood; to remind me that at the end of the day I have a big mouth and I make a big deal out of every little thing.
But lately, I’m not as bothered by this aspect of my personality as I used to be. I’m realizing that I would rather be the woman that needs to learn how to stay silent than the woman who needs to learn to speak up. I was raised in a family that didn’t just allow my opinions to be heard, they insisted on it. We are a family of talkers. If someone is upset we talk about it, doesn’t matter how big or small the situation. If it’s enough to upset someone in the family, it’s important enough to talk about. As I’ve gotten older I have realized that I do need to learn to let things go. Every Facebook status doesn’t need my attention. Every misogynistic comment doesn’t need my rebuttal. Sometimes the sock on the floor is just a sock on the floor. Sometimes I will find myself so mad about something and when I sit down and really think about it I realize I’m not just making a mountain out of a mole hill; I’m making an erupting volcano out of an ant hill.
So yes, part of my maturation into adulthood is learning how to be quiet. I’m learning that waiting a minute to let someone else speak can be just the encouragement the shy person in the corner of the room needs to make herself heard. I’m learning that small issues don’t always grow into big ones. I’m learning that silence has its own kind of power. Yet, even so I’m still glad that this is the strategy I have to learn. Listening instead of speaking. Letting things go instead of picking things up. Releasing small things instead of ignoring big things.
I’ve come to this conclusion because I’ve watched people I respect and admire choke back their thoughts because they don’t want to rock the boat. I see relationships falling apart because one partner just can’t get up the courage to tell the other partner what is bothering her. I see people calling something a small problem when really at best it’s a medium size problem swelling to gargantuan size because they “don’t want to fight about this.”
“If we ignore it, it’ll go away.”
“I want to say something but this isn’t that big of a deal.”
“I’m going to look petty.”
“This shouldn’t bother me. I’ll just get over it.”
What if you can’t?
I’ll be honest, I tend to hear these sentences mostly from the women in my life. That’s the stereotype right? Women make a big deal out of everything. We’re always upset about something. All we want to do is talk talk talk. Of course behind every stereotype is some truth, but are we okay with living in a world that teaches a woman her first instinct should be to doubt herself? That when she’s upset about something the first thing she should do is make sure it’s okay for her to be upset before doing something about it? I’m not okay with that. When I watch people I care about struggle to make their voices heard, I’m thankful all over again that silence is a skill I have to practice. I stay silent not because I’m afraid to speak. I’m not worried that my opinion might offend someone. I’m not worried that I’ll lose a relationship. My silence comes from thoughtfulness and respect, not fear.
Learning to be silent is a process. I’m not where I want to be, but I’m doing better than I was. I’m having more success at it now than I’ve ever had. I think it’s because I’ve stopped feeling bad that my gut instinct is to speak up. It’s good that I care. I’m learning that being quiet can be its own form of caring. It’s caring enough to let someone else speak. I know I’m going to keep getting better the more that I practice.
If I could go back and tell the me who first heard that sock statement anything it would be this. Okay so the point you have just heard is not completely invalid. However, the dude that said this to you is a jerk whose MO in life is to avoid avoid avoid. You can take this advice with a GIANT grain of salt. Someday you will understand that when you are in healthy relationships, romantic and otherwise, silence won’t be demanded from you as some sort of power play. Rather, it will be asked of you by people who have your best interest at heart, love that you aren’t afraid to say your opinion, and want to help you grow into the most complete version of yourself that you can be. With those people silence isn’t a choke hold; it’s a gift.
So with that I will close out this entry on silence (clocking in at over 900 words I know, I see the irony) by opening it up to my readers. Are you a person who needs to learn to be quiet or a person who needs to learn to speak up? Which do you think is harder to learn and why?