WHAT’S BETTER LEFT UNSAID
“Cato practiced the kind of public speech capable of moving the masses, believing proper political philosophy takes care like any great city to maintain the warlike element. But he was never seen practicing in front of others, and no one ever heard him rehearse a speech. When he was told that people blamed him for his silence, he replied, ‘Better they not blame my life. I begin to speak only when I’m certain what I’ll say isn’t better left unsaid.’”
PLUTARCH, CATO THE YOUNGER.
It’s easy to act to just dive in. It’s harder to stop, to pause, to think: No, I’m not sure I need to do that yet. I’m not sure I am ready. As Cato entered politics, many expected swift and great things from him stirring speeches, roaring condemnations, wise analyses. He was aware of this pressure a pressure that exists on all of us at all times and resisted. It’s easy to pander to the mob (and to our ego).
Instead, he waited and prepared. He parsed his own thoughts, made sure he was not reacting emotionally, selfishly, ignorantly, or prematurely. Only then would he speak when he was confident that his words were worthy of being
heard. To do this requires awareness. It requires us to stop and evaluate ourselves honestly. Can you do that?
We prefer to be seen doing something rather than nothing, but our bias for busyness keeps us from learning. Don’t Just Dive Into Action: Stop to Think First.
The problem is that we have an action bias: We would rather be seen doing something than doing nothing. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, right? This idea is so deeply ingrained that we are afraid to give the appearance of doing nothing, even when it is the best strategy.
Worse, the need to be always “on” seriously hampers the most important work of all: learning. I’d go so far as to say that we live and work today in a learning economy. We can’t just be knowledge workers; we must also be learning workers. And learning requires recharging and reflection, not constant action.
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