How many times have I regretted what I said?
Marcus Aurelius says that opinions are never fact, and to add, no matter how close they are to the truth. When I have something to say, I have to consider so many things before I let it out. Because in most cases, a Stoic would prefer silence over dialogue on matters that are not important.
“Cato practiced the kind of public speech capable of moving the masses, believing proper political philosophy takes care like any great city to maintain the warlike element. But he was never seen practicing in front of others, and no one ever heard him rehearse a speech. When he was told that people blamed him for his silence, he replied, ‘Better they not blame my life. I begin to speak only when I’m certain what I’ll say isn’t better left unsaid.’”
— PLUTARCH on CATO THE YOUNGER
Today’s Stoic thought begins with the life of Cato the Younger, who according to Plutarch is a talented politician and public speaker. But even with those credentials, he is known to not speak as often. Cato makes a good argument as to why this is so.
So why should I speak when I am not certain that it is better left unsaid?
In these days of outrage online, people have strong desires to speak their opinions, or to spew out rhetoric that are unsubstantiated. But what are their motivations?
- Why say something insulting?
- Why say something untrue?
- Why say something uncomfortable to hear?
- Why say something that makes people feel bad?
- Why say something at all?
The online community is full of anger due to politics & political correctness, that so many things are offensive, and lines have to be drawn between people who say one thing and another.
I’ve learned just recently the value of keeping your opinion to yourself, with my interaction in forums regarding politics, where I just want to send a comment to a thread, but I convince myself it’s not worth it.
When I make a comment, what happens? Some people will agree, some will not. When people don’t agree, they can say whatever they like. This can include angry retorts, insults, condescending remarks, and things can go out of hand and the forum will end up calling me a ‘child’.
Why would I invite that stress into my life?
A Stoic knows when to speak, and when to not speak. A Stoic considers what he says, and only speaks when he knows that something should be said.