A Week on Silence by Will Ringland

A Week in Silence. More on my blag shortly. #aominaction

I am a quiet person. Solitude in a well-controlled environment is important to me; but I have never attempted to use silence in a beneficial way. This week was really the first time and it was harder than I thought.

I manage a dozen people at work which requires meeting with each of them individually every week to assess priorities, projects, and gather or give feedback. Managing people means working with disparate personalities and varying levels of talkativeness in those meetings. I’ve found that, with a few of my team members, I have a habit of filling the silent time myself. Which means I tend to talk the majority of our meeting time.

This is bad management. Silence in a 1:1 meeting is a tool to understand what is on your team member’s mind. A successful 1:1 is me spending as little time talking as possible while still being informed of all the things that have happened or may happen in the coming week. This summary from Rands in Repose(1) is elegant:

A 1:1 is a place to listen for what they aren’t saying.

The sound that surrounds successful regimen of 1:1s is silence. All of the listening, questioning, and discussion that happens during a 1:1 is managerial preventative maintenance. You’ll see when interest in a project begins to wane and take action before it becomes job dissatisfaction.

  • The Update, The Vent, and the Disaster

When I’m talking, I’m not listening.

This was the primary practical application of Franklin’s Silence virtue. I spend the whole first half of Tuesday in Wednesday in work plans. I felt the silence in a few situations where my team members grew uncomfortable.

Some of my team members do not treat our weeklies as a conversation, that it is to be as short a “here’s what’s on my plate” as possible. They are the ones uncomfortable in silence when I ask brief, open questions to allow them to fill the pauses between.

Had you asked me last week which I thought would go poorly, I would have guessed the newer team members with whom I had not built a relationship. The golden thread linking the worst of my weeklies was engagement and overall performance.

It seems obvious now that people interested in their jobs and projects can keep a conversation going as they are more likely to detail the tapestry they’re weaving in their work. Open questions to engaged team members creates rich responses.

I think I’ll keep this specific implementation going.


Otherwise, I feel like I need better ideas of what the other virtues mean. I don’t think I’m applying them consistently and may be too generous in my marking.

For temperance, how do I handle when I’m out and get 1 drink but the bartender is generous (2)? By volume, it;s probably two drinks? Potentially more. I drank it over about three hours while writing. So… was that intemperance or dealing with the potential for intemperance in an appropriate manner?

I did, at least, call that a mark against frugality. Though working away from home can make certain things flow better, the money is spent is ultimately unnecessary. You can argue that for sure.

And though I had more marks against humility, I likely was just missing them before. I believe it useful that I’m catching them now as I’m becoming more aware of of boasting (sarcasm too regarding the Sincerity virtue) but I’m not yet catching myself before I break the virtue.

Others - justice, moderation, and cleanliness - I think I need to consider definitions better but that will come later.

This is a learning process.

We stand at the crossroads, each minute, each hour, each day, making choices. We choose the thoughts we allow ourselves to think, the passions we allow ourselves to feel, and the actions we allow ourselves to perform.

  • Benjamin Franklin, The Art of Virtue

1. If you’re in tech and are a manager, you should read Rands in Repose. It is always as relevant as it is well-written.

2. That’s a glass of Ardbeg and the fireplace at a coffee shop in town. I am lucky that local coffee shops serve alcohol let along good whisky poured generously.

Silence in Colonial Culture by Will Ringland

As an introvert, I implicitly understand the utility of and need for silence. Silence is how introverts recharge in a brash world. But trying to understand how exactly Silence became a virtuous thing is curious.

The phrase “children should be seen and not heard originated in a 15th century from a book of homilies written by an Augustinian clergymen named John Mirk.

Hyt ys old Englysch sawe: A mayde schuld be seen, but not herd. - John Mirk, Mirk’s Festial, pg 230

It is one of few books that survived the time period with so many copies suggesting it was popular enough to be republished numerous times.

Really basic overview of Reformation

The point being that this is the sort of sentiment that informed the reformation process itself. In the 16th century, Protestant scripture spread like wild fire with the invention of the printing press. Luther’s translation of the Bible allowed Christian ideals to take hold in Germany and fueled the already ill-tempered relations with Rome over corruption - thing like papal bulls were at their height as was simony, which is essentially the ability to buy your way into church office.

Rebellious ideals spread to England where super-friendly, lover of all his wives (while they had heads) Henry VIII used the anti-Roman fervor as a veil to separate English Christianity from the supremacy of the Pope in Rome. Forming the Church of England was pretty much about Henry VIII divorcing his wife but I suspect the people were more OK with it than they would have been otherwise because of anti-Rome sentient.

From moderate reform, came the radicalized groups calling for further change. Removing the supremacy of Rome, papal bulls, simony, and much of the corruption was a great start, but radicalized groups wanted a return to “purer” forms of the religions. Ones based on strict adherence to the Bible. But, being satisfied with his own supremacy, Henry VIII stopped short, preferring a relatively moderate path between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

The Puritans were all about strict interpretation of scripture. Deeming it as the only true law of God, Puritans believed that each individual, as well as each congregation, was directly responsible to God, rather than answering through a mediator such as priests, King Henry VIII, the Pope, or similar. They were against ornamentation both in churches as well as those who served as clergy and the rituals they preferred. Hard-liners.

It was this vigorous opposition to standard practice that caused such agitation in the country and what ed to their eventual expulsion from England to Holland and, eventually, America. Which leads me to…

You can’t outrun culture

To their credit, Puritans were open and considerate of other beliefs. They founded American on (some) religious tolerance and encouraged people of all religions to join them in the new world. Other ostracized groups went to America including Lutherans, Anglicans, and Quakers. This what informed the culture. Quakers, in particular, we the founders of Pennsylvania where Franklin spent his adult life. And Franklin’s parents were devout Puritans and attempted to raise him as a devout Puritan. It didn’t really take.

My parents had early given me religious impressions, and brought me through my childhood piously in the Dissenting way. But I was scarce fifteen, when, after doubting by turns of several points, as I found them disputed in the different books I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself. - Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Chapter VII

However, the conception of silent as a virtue and tool in one’s arsenal to obtain (moral) perfection makes sense. Puritans, and protestants in general, were of few Christian sects to believe people could interact directly with God - it was the biggest thing they chucked in refromation. Before, only priests had that ability.

Prayer, an act done in some amount of solitude - again, Puritans were’t big on large, church rituals, requires silence. It’s how you connect. I don’t think this was lost on Franklin but better considered in ways that could apply to both personal advantage and societal advancement.

Quakers, too, believed that one could receive divine inspiration through silent devotion to god. Silence in worship consists of participants sitting in a circle at a private home or similar; they were similar, if not more rigorous, in the striping on ostentetation of ritual from worship than the Puritans. “Services” were set for about an hour, anyone may speak if so moved, but the was that any vocalization should be intentional and “inspired.” It is similar to meditation but without a mantra. But that’s likely a different discussion.

It is, however, easy to believe that tis is the sort of context that generated Franklin’s desire for a more valuable version of Silence with which he was raised. Consider it an act of personal, fiscal, and societal devotion that he would not seek to engage in frivolous talk and save his time for worthwhile conversation.

Silence by Will Ringland

Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

This virtue is not about quietude or vowing to never speak again. The virtue of Silence is expressed in listening and sincereity of speech. Franklin’s intention was to reduce the amount of tie hespnt in “trifling” conversation so he had more time for matters of greater import to him.

…considering that in Conversation it was obtain'd rather by the Use of the Ears than of the Tongue, and therefore wishing to break a Habit I was getting into of Prattling, Punning and Joking, which only made me acceptable to trifling Company, I gave Silence the second Place. This, …, I expected would allow me more Time for attending to my Project and my Studies.

  • Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, chapter IX

I suspect it was a desire to buld his own wealth and business more than spending time with family but he was ultimately a pragmatic person.

The idea of spending less time with useless conversation is good. Useless requiring some definition because, even as an introvert, I need some human interaction lest I go mad(der). I would define useless as gossip or derogatory conversation, both of which I tend to do. I tell myself I'm “venting” when someone or something has frustrated me; it is, at best, useless and, at wost, destructive to my relationships - both the people I'm venting about and those to whom I am venting. No one likes a consistently negative person

I extend this idea further to include spending the time in necessary conversation better, using Silence as a way to engage better. I manage a number of people at work which requires weekly 1:1 meetings. I tend to speak more than some of my team members and that isn’t helpful. We don’t have those meetings so I can talk at them but so they can keep me updated on their projects, successes, and challenges.

So, upon the previous week of Temperance, I do pile these edicts:

  1. Listen to understand in all interaction, not to respond.
  2. Speak less; do not seek to simply fill the silence.
  3. Do not derogate, gossip, or villify others for my own satisfaction.

I’m curious where I’ll fall with venting this week. venting is useful to a point and I’ve certainly crossed from off-gassing frustration into #3 above. I wonder if I can find the line more easily once the week is out when I am otherwise unable to let the frustration pass.