The French diplomat Charles Talleyrand once remarked: “When a diplomat says ‘Yes’, he means ‘Maybe’; when he says ‘Maybe’, he means ‘No’; and if he say ‘No’, he’s no diplomat at all.”
Kate Moss once remarked: "Never complain, never explain."
The first thing to pop up on my Google Reader this morning was this discussion about silence and the enigmatic on the School of Life, a subject that always intrigues me.
To paraphrase the article, “what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence," or at least according to philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Wittgenstein’s logical purity obliged him to confront the stark conclusion that the alternative to clarity is silence. Wittgenstein saw what we miss when we hanker after the simplicity we think clarity will bring – that it will also oblige us to leave many things unsaid.
The business of life is, however, rarely clear. The clarity of logic and mathematics are distant for lived life (Wittgenstein himself saw that the fact they couldn’t be wrong made them true only in a rather dull and uninteresting way). The business of life is work and play, love and hope, disappointment and despair. These are not about fixed cold facts. They are unfolding negotiations with others and the stuff of life.
This is why we should acknowledge the diplomat’s art. Diplomacy keeps conversations going and never abandons us to Wittgenstein’s cold, logical silence. Conversations heal wound, repair friendships, save love, negotiate treaties and establish peace. If this demands using words skilfully as well as clearly it is a skill worth cultivate. Silence can give us none of these.
I personally like to keep my mouth firmly and securely shut, at least about the important things. But, this makes me think that it's not the best idea. For a writer, I'm extremely inarticulate in my personal life, although I do have an awful lot of unsent letters. Thoughts?