It’s not often that you catch Queen D holding her tongue – but its more likely in January and February. She’s taking a leaf out of another Queen’s crown and trying to make silence golden.
Queen D is a great fan of The Crown, obviously. We have a lot in common, Lilibet and I. Unheated homes, husbands led astray by moronic mates and ghastly sisters who suck up cigarettes like spaghetti.
I know The Crown isn’t a documentary, but I’m jotting down tips. Waiting by a closed door for it to be immediately opened by a flunky hasn’t worked so far, but I reckon separate bedrooms is a winner along with sending sisters away to the other side of the world.
I’m not the envious type, but our tv monarch has one talent I covet beyond words – her ability to say nothing when the urge for an outburst is overwhelming.
In series one, the young Queen complained to her mother about her pathetic education. The legendary old dipso waved a vase of Dubonnet and lemondade under Lilibet’s nose and told her she hadn’t been taught school stuff because all she needed to learn as Queen was how to shut up.
Although I wanted to throw a Meissen jug at the old bag’s head, there was a diamond chip of truth in her rambling. As our Queen soon learned, understanding when to say nothing is to possess wisdom beyond price.
Let’s catch a carriage from the palace to the corporate world and drop in on any meeting. There’s the usual lineup – the Collaborator, Accountant, Saboteur and Clock Watcher. Look out for the Scales, the one who can perfectly balance words and silence.
If you’re a country girl like Queen D, you know about separating wheat from chaff. At the end of summer, when corn is ripe, pluck a ripened head and rub it hard in your palms. The grains separate from the husks. Blow on it, and away goes the chaff leaving a handful of crunchy grains to snack.
In our meeting, an item is ripe for discussion. Separating the important grains from the irrelevant wispy husks takes deliberation. Some colleagues contribute so much garble that grains are left crushed and useless. One’s silent through fear, another appears to be stoned. Then the smart one uses just enough rub to get to the nub. The final clearance needs few words, just a well directed puff to blow away the husks. The Scales’ nod of approval needs no words.
“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on. ”I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least-at least I mean what I say-that’s the same thing, you know.” ”Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!”
How often are we misunderstood? If our own silence is a window through which we try to see more clearly, words are the bricks we use to build walls to support our vision. If we use a combination of cleverly constructed words and silences, anyone can see our edifice in plain sight. But so often, our wonky walls, missing windows and lousy building skills let us down, leaving people wondering if we’re building a temple or an underground car park.
To misquote the immortal Eric Morecambe, sometimes we say all the right words, but not necessarily in the right order.
On the highway to happiness, we need to get the message across, to be able to communicate clearly using the right words in the right order, at home with friends and family and at work. Being understood is not just a skill, it’s a thrill, from getting your cranky teenager to think hoovering is an act of defiance to explaining to your boss her nephew in accounts is as much use as an inflatable dartboard.
To develop our ability to manage words and silences we need to understand what lies behind what we say and what motivates us to use language as we do. We certainly don’t want to make our lives and relationships even more perilous by being opaque or blurting out thoughtless and damaging affronts.
A psychotherapist explains the delicacy of the Freudian slip, where we involuntarily say something which reveals our deepest thoughts. “I was having breakfast with my husband,” she said. “I meant to say, ‘Can you pass the toast, dear.’ What I actually said was, ‘You’ve ruined my life, you bastard.’ ”
Understanding ourselves and why we use words and silences define our relationships and our own happiness, from gazing at a baby to screaming at a goon. We can use words as poetry or ammunition. Silence can be golden, punishing or companionable. The more we understand why and how to use them both, the better we’ll be understood.
It’s January. The bills pile up, we’re too fat to pluck them off the sodden mat, even if we can see them in the bleak darkness of dawn and dusk in the hallway. They’re too wet to read and there’s no money left to pay them after the Christmas blow out.
The post holiday jolt back to reality can render us evil. We can loathe our partners and ourselves. January isn’t called divorce month for nothing. The only notable date on the horizon is Valentine’s Day. Oh, the irony!
The temptation to announce and denounce can be overwhelming. If home or work feel unhappy, the outside world seems worse. We lurch from stunned to numbed every day, with our mental anchors straining with every Trump idiocy, every Brexit incompetency, every announcement of another financial crash or broken company. The inadequacies of everyone closest to us are thrown into sharp relief by the glare of insecurity against the darkness of winter.
But if we can’t afford to pay HSBC, equally we can ill afford to use the words which spring to our tongues in these weeks of frustration and anxiety. It may seem the perfect time of year to translate internal turmoil into words of action and decision, to follow the disingenuous gut reaction, to believe those feelings bubbling so ferociously close to the surface.
Believe me, it’s not. Wait until the spring sunshine sheds some light and warmth. Taste the words maybe, even savour them as you chew them over, but then swallow them rather than spit them out. They’re not for now.
If ever there was a time to say nothing, it’s January and February. Take a bit of gold leaf out of Lilibet’s book, and let the silence do the talking.
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