The ninth step of humility is that one controls the tongue and keeps silence until asked a question; for the Scripture shows that “In a flood of words, you will not avoid sinning” (Prov 10:19) and that “the talkative one goes about aimlessly on the earth” (Ps139:12).
The monastic tradition of humility which St. Benedict adopted in his Rule is challenging for someone from western culture and living in the global north in our day. Self-promotion is the order of the day, and anyone who aspires to success must have their own “brand.” We have “influencers” on social media who earn their living by verbally promoting themselves in order to influence others to copy them.
This picture, taken from a website about personal branding says it all. How can we value silence when this is the image of how one is to be in the world?
Living in community, I have come to see the value of only speaking when spoken to, even if it is sometimes challenging. There is a freedom in it that can seem counterintuitive. When I follow this rule, I am free from having to think of something interesting to say at the dinner table. I am also free from the fear that another will misunderstand and possibly be displeased by something I say. I am free to listen more deeply to what another is saying if I am not worried about thinking of something appropriate in response.
One might think that the steps of humility are guides to spiritual growth, and they are, but St. Benedict was eminently practical and down-to-earth. Controlling the tongue promotes smooth relationships. As Benedict quotes from the book of Proverbs, “in a flood of words you will not avoid sinning.”
By Sister Karen Ann Lortscher, OSB
Photo credit: HBR Staff/Getty Images/GOCMEN