Four monks decided to meditate silently without speaking for two weeks. They lit a candle as a symbol of their practice and began. By nightfall on the first day, the candle flickered and then went out.
The first monk said: “Oh, no! The candle is out.”
The second monk said: “We’re not supposed to talk!”
The third monk said: “Why must you two break the silence?”
The fourth monk laughed and said: “Ha! I’m the only one who didn’t speak.”
95% of all talking covers only two topics:
- The person whose mouth is open.
- Stuff that’s outside our control.
The first monk got distracted by an outside event and felt compelled to point it out. He could’ve just re-lit the candle.
The second monk reminded everyone of a rule that had already been broken. He could’ve just kept meditating.
The third monk vented his anger. He could’ve just stayed calm.
The fourth monk got carried away with his ego. He could’ve just enjoyed his success in silence.
What all four have in common is that they shared their thoughts without filtering them, none of which added anything to improve the situation. If there had been a fifth, wiser monk, here’s what he would have done: Remain silent and keep meditating.
In doing so, he would’ve shown each of the other four monks their shortcomings without a single word. The more you talk, the more likely you are to say something stupid. The less you talk, the more you can listen.
Listening leads to learning.
What’s more, when you’re not talking, you have time to observe the situation until you spot the moment when it’s actually important to say something. Only speak when what you say is likely to have a significant, positive impact, for wisdom is cultivated in silence.
The less you speak, the smarter you get. And, maybe not quite coincidentally, the smarter you get, the less you speak.