‘Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.’
The above quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln, who must have had a sense of humour hidden under that austere-looking exterior.
To writers silence, in the sense of saying nothing, is not an option. Our words may be read in silence but they’re based on speech. So are we destined to be thought fools?
I think we have to take the risk.
As a politician, Lincoln didn’t have the option of silence either. Perhaps that’s why he valued it – like most of us, wanting what he couldn’t have.
I prefer to think of the silence he means in terms of not sounding off when all you have in your mind is opinion not knowledge.
Even here writers have to take the risk of being thought fools. If H G Wells had decided to wait until he knew what life in the future or on other planets was really like, we would be the poorer by several great novels. Many novelists take the same route to foolishness – we can’t all stick to what we know.
Like speech and other forms of communication, silence is a complex subject with many aspects.
Martin Luther King Jr spoke about one of them:
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
As did Carmen de Monteflores:
Oppression can only survive through silence.
Again, writers have to put themselves forward as they are the ones who can speak the un-silence most eloquently.
Don’t get me wrong. I agree with Lincoln and others who advocate silence of his sort. Chatter for the sake of chatter gets boring. But his is a narrow sense and not available to everybody.
The history of the world has included the history of the spread of writing (plus broadcasting) and an increase in writers and their audience, the readers/listeners. Today, with easy access to the internet anyone can be a writer with an audience, and can push back the silence oppression depends on.
If that means an increase in the sound of foolishness, so be it.