By Scott Taylor
When I was teaching I used to have a few quotes posted around my classroom, including the title of this piece. I found it in a collection of “Zen sayings,” but have no idea if it can actually be attributed to Zen teaching. Of course, most of the 13- to 16-year-olds ignored it, but it was a great reminder for me when I was fed up and ready to unleash a tirade upon whichever student had chosen to be “most irritating for the day.”
However, every once in a while, I’d hear a student direct the attention of one of their classmates — the latter having opened wide and begun the process of devouring their own foot — to the poster and I would quietly chuckle.
It’s really just a less polite way of saying, “Better to keep your mouth shut and appear a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” Yet, here I sit, violating my own advice, babbling on about the teachings of some shaven-headed monks in saffron robes.
Admittedly, I’ve done my share of opening my big yap about this or that, only to realize — sometimes years later — that whatever was spewing out was wrong, ignorant, passe, hypocritical, sanctimonious… I could keep going. Because of this, in recent years I’ve taken to (usually — I can be a slow learner) sitting quietly while those around me jabber on, or holding my tongue when folks are ranting on the internet, frustrating as it is.
My friends know me as being generally quiet and subdued — though I can hear my nearest and dearest cackling now: “Oh yeah? Put a couple pints down him and see what happens!” Regardless, I’ve found that my peace of mind and contentment are easier to find when my mouth isn’t running. I’ve also found that, of the thousands of words we utter each day, at least 90% of them are unneeded, being frivolous and redundant.
Yes, we all experience those moments when others’ actions or words prompt us to respond, sometimes in unkind ways. But, despite what we tell ourselves — “I’ll feel better if I just unload on this moron” — we know in our hearts and souls that we won’t. We may as well just swig a glass of poison. I know that any time I lost my self control and lambasted a kid at school, I ended up feeling bad about it and my happiness suffered.
That isn’t to say we can’t express our grievances in a calm, rational manner. Then again, as my previous neighbor said, in his normal pirate voice, “Sometimes ya gotta get a little loud and cuss to get a ‘strong emotional reaction’ from ‘em!’”
When I hear the lines, “Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different/ We love to talk on things we don’t know about,” it reminds me of the title of this column and of one more Zen saying: “He who says does not know; he who knows does not say.”
Finally, I ask myself, “Does this really need to be said? Will it help anybody? Will it contribute to my or others’ happiness?”
Maybe I should stop talking now.
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