Silence has often been considered a sign of respect. Worshipers often pray in silence, a class stands in silence before the teacher, so do soldiers before their commander. In addition, many of us are inspired by silence to promote inner peace and introspection. So clearly, silence is, knowingly or unconsciously, imposed or chosen, an essential component of everyone's life.
Yet, we must look at the other side of the coin before unconditionally praising the virtue of silence. In some cases, it has been taken to its uttermost: some monks take the vow of [absolute] silence and believe that it is the way to be in perfect communion with their Creator. Nonetheless, one may legitimately wonder whether this is the optimal way of self-enrichment. Shouldn't silence be a learning transition after which you share and exchange what you would have learned, thereby letting others benefit from your acquired knowledge and allow you, in return to hear what others may have learned through their own silence? In other words, should silence be elevated to a point where it hinders all that interactivity can bestow both individually and socially?
Silence has also been condemned throughout history as a sign of weakness, complacency, and even complicity in the face of injustice, oppression, and persecution. Condemnations of silence throughout history and modern times abound, whether they involve genocides or smaller mischief, such as bullying. “Stand up, speak up,” is a summons by our peers or our own conscience to abandon the neutrality of silence and take charge of our destiny or some cause towards which we have a moral/ethical obligation. I would say it is hard not to agree with those who decry silence from this perspective.
Clearly then, silence is not to be judged as Good or Evil--as it is neither. So, how much should we speak (up) and how much should we adhere to silence? I do not believe there is an easy answer to this dilemma.
Many vantage points may be valid positions on the issue. Should we attempt to adopt an agreeable perspective, we shall say that silence should be elevated to the rank of a humanistic discipline and a way of life. One should adhere to it as a free and educated choice, in light of its implications for oneself and for others. That said, silence (at least temporary silence), is undoubtedly associated with wisdom across a great deal of popular beliefs and teachings. A wise man listens and learns, then speaks when he is ready for his words. I think there can be a solid consensus in most cultures of this world around this basic principle.
Thus, it would be safe to speculate that Freemasons have been inspired by the above and have thus endorsed silence as an invaluable tool to gain wisdom before spreading the word among their Brethren and, whenever deemed appropriate, beyond the Brotherhood.
After all, the quest for Truth, a cornerstone of Masonry, is an everlasting, infinite voyage that can only be traveled through learning and learning and learning again. What better way to learn than to listen, absorb, analyze, meditate, self-reflect, or to put oneself on the path of self-fulfillment in every aspect of our lives, not the least of which is that of the Entered Apprentice Mason? Moreover, how can this be achieved without silence? The journey to the Truth without silence would be a road of distraction, vanity and ultimately perdition.
The process of learning that I chose of my own free will and accord is also the learning of silence itself. Standing in silence requires the development of self-control capacities, the ability to dismiss the temptation to speak. From this perspective, for Freemasons, the exercise of silence is not only a way to listen and learn but also an extraordinary training method to uphold two fundamental masonic duties: to a) keep the secrets of the Art, and; b) keep from engaging profanes in their hostile and defamatory utterances, i.e. the preservation of esoteric wisdom from the abuses of the profane. Hence, for Masons, silence becomes a vital tool of self-preservation and endurance.
To say that silence is a foundation of our Craft is no exaggeration. It is a passport to continue our reconstructive march and a means to contain our vanity so that we remember how much we need to learn no matter how much we think we know. It is of essence to any Freemason, profoundly impregnated with the genuine spirit of the Craft, and aides in the practice of humility at all times before the complexities of the Universe and its Great Architect.
I know my knowledge of the Art is extremely shallow. Hence, now that I have spoken before you about silence, I stand ready to take along your side a few steps on our mutual long journey towards Light, with the eyes and spirit of a newborn, with humbleness and, … in silence.