My friend Jonathan brought up the topic of reticence yesterday. He mentioned that he is more of an extrovert than I am. I mentioned that when I was Jonathan’s age, I had an even more reticent personality. I was told by close friends that I needed to open up more. My friend observed that we met at the intersection of Jonathan’s path of learning reticence and my path of relaxing restraint.
Reticence can be a virtuous quality if not overindulged. Being too reserved and secretive may lead to others believing one is dishonest and devious. Too little reticence leads to over-sharing and the risk of being a bore. The lifelong struggle for many of us is maintaining a healthy balance between frankness and reserve.
I reflected more on the topic after Jonathan asked me about when and how I came out. He was genuinely curious because as a straight guy, he never had reasons to be careful about revealing his sexuality. I reminded my friend that back in the late 1960s, we didn’t have YouTube where young people produce coming out videos in order to reveal themselves to the world.
I didn’t make a break with my secrecy all at once. Coming out was a slow, steady process of one to one communication. It began with telling my best friend, then my roommate, then a second-cousin, then my siblings, and eventually my parents. The process never really ends because we meet and befriend others throughout our lives.
Jonathan asked if I was ever going to make a YouTube coming out video. My answer was that I didn’t feel the need to do so. It probably wouldn’t get many views anyway because I’m not a celebrity. Nor do I have a distinctively different message. Besides that, I’ve already come out to the public via my blog.
It’s wise to preserve a reticent core and measure of privacy in life. There must be a strong place within to keep secrets that must be kept. Reticence is a major virtue when it comes to never revealing confidential confessions shared by a friend. Discretion is important when refusing to engage in idle gossip about acquaintances and celebrities. Nobody truly trusts a gossiper.
A healthy amount of reserve is a measure of personal self-control. The ability to restrain impulsive behavior is a highly valuable skill. It’s wise to practice inner temperance in the form of voluntary self-restraint. Some of the benefits of mindful reticence include the skills of forgiveness and non-violence. Reticence can come to mean modesty, humility, and refraining from arrogance. A person with a healthy measure of reticence is seen by others as a safe refuge in times of trouble.
In today’s culture of over-sharing, there is the risk of people snooping where they have no legitimate business of investigation. There is the propensity of some folks to interrogate and cross-examine acquaintances and even strangers about private matters. To avoid revealing too much, we become more reticent and avoidant around such people. There’s a bit of pithy commentary regarding such situations: “What must be done need not be said, and what must be said need not be done.”
Once again, mindfulness comes into play. It is through being aware of what to share and what to keep to oneself that we can avoid many interpersonal problems. This strategy is an on-going, never-ending process.