There is one thing you can do to your child that is worse than smacking him in the face. There is one thing that will drive your spouse to distraction, even more than getting into a fight. This one thing is probably the most powerful relationship-tool you have. It can also build relationships, trust, and make you look wise. It is so powerful that most of us do not know how and when to use it. And, it is sometimes very difficult to implement it. Silence. It can be your most powerful position in a conversation. At times, it can be deafening. At times, it can be golden. SilenceÂ has an energy all of its own. It can force peopleÂ to think. It can force people to act. You can attain this power nowâ€¦ Just read ahead.
The Chafetz Chaim says that silence is something which human beings must strive to master. It does not come easily. The Talmud (Megilla 18a) says×ž×œ×” ×‘×¡×œ×¢ ×©×ª×™×§×•×ª× ×‘×ª×¨×™ Â , a word is worth one gold coin. Silence is worth two. There is greatÂ power in the spoken word, but there is a far greater power in silence. This should not be taken to mean that a person should strive to be always quiet. It means knowing when you are supposed to be silent. A student once asked the Chazon Ish, “According to this piece of Talmud,Â if I am quiet the whole day, I get only two coins. But, if I talk the whole day, I get one for every word!?!” The Chazon Ish answered, â€œYou get two coins for each time you keep silent when you have something that you want to say but do not need to say, or should not say.
It is hard to keep quiet, when you have something you want to desperately say, and you know that it will get you nowhere. We see an astounding thought in the parasha. The dogs did not bark when the Jews left Egypt, so as not to scare them. Also, the dogs did not bark in the Jewish neighborhoods during the plague of the first born. For this silence, they were rewarded in Parashat Mishpatim.Â ×‘×©×¨ ×‘×©×“×” ×˜×¨×¤×” ×œ× ×ª××›×œ×• ×œ×›×œ×‘ ×ª×©×œ×™×›×•×Ÿ ××•×ª×• Meat of an animal that is a treifah (A treifah is an animal that is slaughtered properly, but the animal was not able to live much longer due to a blemish, such as a hole in the lungs etc.) you may not eat. You should throw it to the dogsâ€¦ Why the dogs? The midrashim tell us that they are forever rewarded for not barking during the exodus from Egypt. For remaining silentâ€¦
But what about the frogs? The frogs jumped into burning ovens in the second plague. And the Torah does not reward them for that! How can the dogs get rewarded for just remaining silent, while the frogs did not get anything, despite their having been ready to die? The answer is, sometimes it is easier to jump into a fire than to stay quiet. It is easier to be burned than it is to hold back your barkâ€¦
I sat with a young grandmother who was reminiscing about her earlier years of parenting. She sipped her coffee as she recalled, out loud, her experiences of raising one of her difficult children. This specific son had so much energy, wit, and brazenness. He got sent home from school more than he was sent to school from home. I asked the mother, a woman with patience and wisdom, if she was ever successful in getting this child to listen to her. â€œNeverâ€, she said, as she looked into her coffee. She was silent for a minute, as her eyes drifted. And then, she said, â€œJust once. Nothing was working. Even when my husband hit him. Even when we threatened him that he wonâ€™t come on trips with us. And then, I gave him the silent treatment. I did not look at him, or answer him. I pretended he was not there. It went on for a few daysâ€¦ and then I got a phone call from his teacher. She said that my son is going crazy. He cried to the teacher like a little baby. He will do anything so that I will speak with him again. He just did not want to lose his motherâ€¦ I put down some rules, which he kept for a little while. Ever since, he knew the score. Ever since, I was able to talk to him calmly, and somehow, he got passed those difficult yearsâ€¦â€
In public speaking, or while teaching students, knowing how to use silence can be the deciding factor in your success. It is the instinctive knowledge when to pause while talking, while getting the audience into an emotional state that brings power to the communicated concept. Just standing there, confidently and silently, in front of them will magically cause all the people in your audience to quiet down and shift their focus in your direction. Just because you have the guts to stand there and face them all, silently.
Silence is even more powerful when you stare confidently. It can fend off verbal abuse more than almost anything you can answer back. One of my students used this technique of silently staring with a blank face when he needed a haircut on Erev Shavuot. The barber shop was fuller than full. The barber told him that none of the three barbers would be able to take him before Yom Tov. The barber was pushing off people that he could say â€œnoâ€ to. This student just stood there, silently, looking at the barber, who continued working. After four minutes, the barber said, â€œO K, Iâ€™ll stick you in today. Just stop standing there, looking at meâ€¦â€
Silence is the secret of powerful negotiators. They know when to be quiet, when to listen. They use quiet to get the other person to feel uncomfortable and to come up with a better offer, or to take action. You know what is the greatest thing you can do on a date, interview, negotiation, meeting, etcâ€¦? Get the other person to talk as much as possible, by asking them an open ended question (one to which they cannot give a short answer, like â€œyesâ€ or â€œnoâ€), and then just listen quietly and respectfully. The more you get the other person talking while you sit there listening,Â the more he or she, with whom you are trying to build a relationship, will find you interesting and smart. While coaching, I found that the greatest sessions are when I get the person I am coaching to do most of the talking. Something like 80/20.
One of my favorite coaching sessions went like this: The 20-year-old yeshiva boy had great difficulty talking to anyone in the world, except his parents. He was down about himself, and also, he did not want to be pushed by his parents or teachers to start opening up to people. When we sat down together, I asked him to write on a piece of paper what bothers him the most in the world. He looked at me, looked around the room, not making a sound. This silence went on for fifteen minutes! I just sat there waiting. If there is quiet, then there is thinking. I hopedâ€¦ (When it got hard to stay quiet like that, I started mumbling Tehillim very quietly – quietly enough so that he would not hear – just not to say anything!) After fifteen minutes, he picked up his pen to write something. He wrote, â€œI want people to stop running my life.â€ I said, â€œNow, change it into a positive statementâ€¦ Try to state what you do wantâ€¦” Again, fifteen minutes of silence, and thinking. Suddenly, I heard him mumble, â€œI realized that no one is pushing me to do anythingâ€¦â€ He was now smiling. He was in a much better mood. I did not say anything. I just asked the right question, and then remained quiet. End of session.
In marriage, some couples find it hard when there is quiet. They find it uncomfortable. The Kotzker once said, “Silence is the nicest sound.” Today, in the younger generation, people are not comfortable with silence, for they have no inner peace. For everyone, the most relaxing thing is silence. Even those who need to make noise also love silence. They are just making noise to quiet down their inner noise.
YOU MAY NOT KNOW
There is a joke that the kids say here in Israel.- Father and son were going on a long walk together. The son asked his father, “Dad, why does fire rise upward ?”Â His father answered, “I do not know, dear son.” A couple of minutes later, the son asked his father, ” Dad, why is the sun yellow and not red?” The father answered, “I do not know, my dear son”. A little while later, the son asked his father a third question . “Dad, why is the sky blue?” “I donâ€™t know, son”.Â The son was quiet for a couple of minutes. He then looked up to his father and asked, ” Dad, does it bother you when I ask you questions?â€ The father answered him â€“ â€œSon, if you do not ask, you will never knowâ€.
The Rebbe Râ€™ Zusha brings out an important lesson from this weeks parasha, a lesson for life. G-d told Moshe in Egypt that at midnight, (×‘×—×¦×•×ª Â ) exactly at midnight, will be the plague of the first born.Â Â Now, it is nearly impossible to know exactly when that is â€“ the split, split second of it.Â On the other hand, when Moshe relayed the prophecy of the tenth plague, he did not say â€œat midnightâ€, but rather â€œapproximately midnightâ€ (×›×—×¦×•×ª ). This change needs explanation.
The Talmud in Berachot (4a) says that Moshe himself did know exactly when midnight is. Still, our rabbis tell us, ×œ×ž×“ ×œ×©×•× ×š ×œ×•×ž×¨ ××™× ×™ ×™×•×“×¢ ×©×ž× ×ª×ª×‘×“×” ×•×ª××—×– , Get into the habit of saying â€œI donâ€™t know, for you might make up something inaccurate, and you will be caught as a liar..â€ Â Rashi explains this behavior of Moshe, â€œIf I say that the plague will begin precisely at midnight, the people who do not know exactly when midnight is might think that I was off by a couple of seconds, casting doubt on the accuracy of the prophecy . They might say that it was not an act of G-d. Better that I say that I do not know the exact split second when the plague will be, so that people will not make such a mistake.â€
Râ€™ Zusha was asked by his students: But Moshe did knowÂ when exactly the plague would begin. Why, then, did he say to them. â€œI donâ€™t knowâ€, if he really did know?
Râ€™ Zusha answered his students that Moshe said â€œI donâ€™t knowâ€ with all honesty. He really did not know how to answer them in such a way that they would make no mistake about what he said. A person may know what to say, but if he does not know how to say it so that the person heâ€™s speaking to will understand him, it may just be better to say, â€œI donâ€™t knowâ€.
I have seen this happen all the time. People who are approached for advice in all areas of life â€“ spiritual, physical, mental health, finance, child rearing and more answer questions without being sure about what they are saying. They might sound smarter if they say first, â€œI donâ€™t know, but I believeâ€¦â€Â -Â If you are not sure, just say so. People will respect you more, not less. Not only that- when you are not sure that the person will be able to understand what you mean to say, you should also say, I donâ€™t know.
I recently experienced this myself. A boy that I was coaching was in a life dilemma. He was pushing me for an answer to help him make his decision, but I answered him that this is not a â€œone linerâ€. In the meantime, I went to my rabbi and brought up the clientâ€™s question to the best of my understanding. The rabbi answered me, â€œI donâ€™t know; I was never in the type of situations that this boy is dealing with, so I donâ€™t know what to tell you.â€ We spoke about the problem for a while, and we came up with something that I could tell the boy. Then my Rabbi told me, â€œI know that this is the answer, but I donâ€™t know how to say it to the person in such a way that he will understand what I am saying. And if he misunderstands me here, chances are that he will make the wrong decision, under the mistaken impression that this is what I told him to do.â€
What makes someone smart is not only what he knows; it is also â€œknowing what he doesnâ€™t knowâ€. I find this to be one of the greatest tools for learning. When there is something that you donâ€™t understand, instead of just thinking about it or rehashing it in an attempt to figure it out, it is worth clarifying what you know about the subject first, and pinpointing exactly what you donâ€™t know. Then, sometimes the brain just does wonders, and things start making sense. The problem is when we donâ€™t understand â€“ say, 25% of the information – and exaggerate, saying that we donâ€™t understand the whole thing. Then we shut off our â€œlearning engineâ€ in despair and start â€œspacing outâ€, losing focus. But if we clarify first what we know, and see exactly what we donâ€™t understand, things sometimes just start making sense. Then eventually, one can get up to 100% comprehension.Â This is a great learning tool. Try it. It works.