They say that Speech is silver, but silence is golden.

Silence, or perhaps we should say discretion, is better than speaking eloquently. When in doubt of what to say, in many cases, it’s better not to say anything at all.  Talking can land us in a lot of trouble.

This Sanskrit subhaashit tells us-

 आत्मनो मुखदोषेण बध्यन्ते शुकसारिकाः |
बकास्तत्र न बध्यन्ते मौनं सर्वार्थसाधनम् ||

Talking birds like the parrot and the myna, are caught and imprisoned in cages. However no one puts  a crane [who does not/cannot speak] in a cage. [The moral is that] silence is the means to get whatever one wants.

Sometimes we prefer to be silent because we do not want to hurt someone. In that case our silence may be commendable.

Why hurt anyone unnecessarily?

Sometimes, as I have mentioned earlier here,  good people feel that it is useless to speak out in an atmosphere where probity is not valued.

भो भद्र कृतं मौनं कोकिलैर्जलदागमे |
वक्तारो दुर्दुरा यत्र तत्र मौनं हि शोभनम् ||

It is befitting that the (sweet-voiced) cuckoo birds observe silence at the start of the rainy season. Where frogs are the speakers, it is best to be silent.


On the other hand one remembers that Martin Luther King Jr. said

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad  people but the silence over that by the good people.”

Obviously, silence is not always desirable. There are times when it is necessary to speak out. And in those times, silence is not golden.

To keep silent because one does not have the courage to speak up against injustice, is not really justifiable. But we often do keep silent in such cases.

This is particularly true if the injustice does not affect us personally.  Why stick our necks out?

We know very well that in all likelihood the injustice will reach our doorsteps eventually, but why speak up before then?

The truth is that  it is not easy to speak up against social injustice. Anyone attempting to do so runs the risk of verbal attack or character assassination.

The powerful being named as wrong-doers, will search for any skeletons, however small, in the closets of those speaking up. If none are found, skeletons will be manufactured, and paraded out as proof that those speaking up are themselves guilty.


So here’s the dilemma- how do we know when to speak and when to keep silent?

To paraphrase  the first line of Hamlet’s soliloquy –

“To speak, or not to speak, that is the question.”

And this is a question which confronts us very often.

When is silence beneficial and when does it become harmful?

When is silence discretion and when does it become dishonest?

Is there a simple answer?

What do you think?