In the language of pop psychology, some might say that Gandhi was an introvert as a child and a young man. He experienced a high level of social anxiety and was generally categorized as shy and timid, (though, such words reveal little about his interior life). When he began his lifelong work in the Indian freedom struggle, however, he transformed his introversion and “shyness” into something that helped, instead of hindered, him: a temporary vow of silence, every Monday, without fail. Besides giving him a chance to “relieve pressure” (his words), he soon realized that a person of few words will have to choose their words carefully, which is a great aid to conscious speech, or “nonviolence in word.” And in fact, Nehru later will testify that “Gandhi never wrote or said a word he did not mean.”
Whether the struggle was intense or a visitor arrived who could only be there that one day, Gandhi kept his vow of silence. He did have a few very compassionate exceptions, in his own words, “When I took the vow of silent Mondays, I allowed myself two exceptions. I decided that in a moment of unendurable physical pain, or to comfort someone in equal mental pain, I would break my silence and say what was necessary.”
Find a time each week–it does not have to be an entire day–to practice the discipline of silence. Work a bit of silence into each day. If you already do that, consider a conscious exploration of your word to silence ratio each day. Can you incorporate more silence on the one hand, and more power into your chosen speech, on the other?
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org