There’s a wonderful quote by Epictetus: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
However, most of us never put this into practice, and in numerous occasions we find ourselves talking more than we listen. In his website The Daily Stoic, Ryan Holiday explains, “This [Speaking more than listening] is a symptom of a bigger problem, especially among the successful, which is to assume they know more than they do. Or worse: That they know so much that there’s nothing left to learn. Consider what happens when you let your ego get in the way of your education. You miss out on one of life’s essential pieces: growth.”
We talk more because we think we are helping others, but instead it makes things more complicated and hard for us. If our partner is venting, we may be tempted to get in the ‘advisor’ role and tell them what the right thing to do is. But the truth is that all they want from us to be there for them and hear them, that’s it. In other scenarios when people try to correct us or give us some feedback, instead of getting defensive, talking ourselves out of the situation and making it worse, we can simply stay quiet and let it pass. In that way, we become a part of the solution rather than entangling ourselves with the problem.
Plato once said, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” This truth is so potent that Robert Greene considers this as a law of power: Always Say Less Than Necessary.
If we want to get in touch with the wisdom of this world, then we need to learn to talk less and listen more. Otherwise, we simply add more noise and drown it out. As Cato the Younger remarked, “I begin to speak only when I’m certain what I’ll say isn’t better left unsaid.”
If we want to truly inspire others, then it’s best to do that with our actions; as Mahatma Gandhi suggested, we must be the change that we want to see in this world. Actions speak louder than words. And so does silence.
It turns out that the best way to contribute to others and the world, while ensuring we build a life of magnificent success and abundance for ourselves, is to talk less, listen more and simply do our work and engage in meaningful and uplifting actions.