To Speak Your Piece or Hold Your Peace

by Belinda Munoz on October 26, 2009


Silence at the proper season is wisdom, and better than any speech. ~Plutarch

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a private dining room of a friend’s beautiful bayside home having a lunch meeting with a real life “atrocity hunter”, along with a few other wonderful people.  It was a gorgeous fall afternoon in San Francisco, a perfect day to meet someone who Rolling Stone magazine calls the “James Bond of human rights investigators”.

Except, I was distracted.

Much as I tried to completely focus on “James Bond”, on this remarkable man whose mission is to deploy other atrocity hunters to various countries in response to major civil wars and other human rights crises, I couldn’t cut out the literal blinding flash that was ruining my concentration:  a 10-carat diamond ring, more or less.

It hugged the ring finger of one of the guests — an intelligent, accomplished, attractive woman sitting one seat away from me.


Let me tell you!

  • “Does she know we’re discussing deaths and wars and poverty?”
  • “What could’ve possibly been going through her mind when she was getting dressed for this gathering?”
  • “Is she aware of how incongruous it is to flash such opulence?  Such ostensibly luxurious symbol of affluence when the topic of discussion is the poorest of the poor?”

Oh yeah, I was bad.  I was terrible.  You might even call me catty.  I was judging her left and right as she flailed her well manicured bejeweled hands in gesticulation.  It just about killed me as I struggled to maintain decorum in this intimate, civilized setting to stay quiet, seethingly, petulantly quiet in my seat.  Being a good non-confrontational guest.  Sucking up the bitter taste of self-imposed silenced protest.

I’m sure I made a face in my discomfort.


If you’re a passionate person like me, with convictions, principles, or what some might call major issues, chances are you’ve been in a similar situation where you’ve raged with wonder about what possessed another person to do what they did.  To think what they thought.  To say what they said.  You might even have once put your foot in your mouth, as I have so famously done numerous times amongst family and close friends, and, inadvertently, disrupted what should’ve been a peaceful gathering, simply to speak your piece.

Disrupt the peace to speak one’s piece.

Sound poetic?  And yet, could we be doing more harm than good when we call someone on what seems to us to be an abhorrent behavior, an offensive mistake, a blatant act of cluelessness?

Don’t get me wrong.

I wish everyone would speak their mind and share their wisdom.  I’ve learned from experience that there’s something to learn from everyone, and too often, too many people sit on their nuggets of wisdom without sharing.  I’m all for freedom of speech and thought and action and all other types of freedom for everyone.


Sometimes, this freedom, plainly, can be used irresponsibly.

Freedom is used irresponsibly when we’re falsely accused or accuse someone falsely.
Freedom is used irresponsibly when we’re thought uncaring or think someone uncaring.
Freedom is used irresponsibly when we’re mistreated or mistreat someone.

Freedom is used irresponsibly when we assume the worst when, in reality, we just might be a bit ignorant of the truth.

And when we do use freedom irresponsibly, we add to the volumes and mountains of distractions that we’re each individually struggling to sort through in our own quirky, inimitable, bumbling, searching way — a way we all know can be tricky, intractable, draining, at times defeating.

If you’re wondering whether or not I ever confronted the woman with the gargantuan diamond ring, I didn’t.  Why?  For all I know, she could’ve gone to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) directly and bought the diamond with her own hard-earned cash that went directly to the country to feed thousands of DRC natives for years to come.

Sometimes, silence is the way to go.

Oftentimes, judging isn’t the way to go.

To be loud and wrong, probably not what we want.

More noise, certainly not what we need.


Have you ever put your foot in your mouth, as I have many times?  Any lesson learned you’d like to share?

Or, is there anyone you wish would practice a little silence every once in a while?

A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom. ~Bob Dylan

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Life Lessons from Italian Cuisine — the halfway point
August 4, 2010 at 11:53 am

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ideas With A Kick October 26, 2009 at 8:10 am

Hi Belinda. Your 3 sentences starting with “Freedom is used irresponsibly when…” caught my attention. They sound to me like variations on “You’re free as long as you don’t hurt other people”. Personally, i would take it one step further. I think that’s precisely why freedom is such an important right, because sometimes, it can hurt others. An allowing someone to have even this freedom to a certain degree is something i see as a crucial.

I’m not saying I would of necessarily spoke my mind in your situation, but if the conversation naturally led to it… well… 🙂



2 LPC October 26, 2009 at 8:33 am

I have begun to monitor myself. If I want to say something because it eases a need I have, that’s one thing. If I want to say something because it brings value to those I am communicating with, that’s another.


3 Patty - Why Not Start Now? October 26, 2009 at 11:48 am

Hi Belinda – A thoughtful AND amusing commentary. I love this line: “If you’re a passionate person like me, with convictions, principles, or what some might call major issues…” I read it just after hanging up from a group call where the instructor asked for feedback about a recording we listened to (of her); she supposed that she was talking too much in it. She was right, and I shared on the call that I picked up on that but imagined how it could be different. Before she could reply, the rest of the group jumped in to “save” her, and I did indeed feel like I’d just put my foot in my mouth. But the thing is – she asked for feedback. I do understand that there are times when silence is appropriate (like the instance you speak of), other times not. I like what LPC says about easing a personal need vs. bringing value. Sometimes I think people are hypersensitive to appropriate truths and comments, though. Does that make sense?


4 Ben Leon Guerrero October 26, 2009 at 12:32 pm

My Belinda,

I have silenced myself often when I would actually prefer to stand on a mountaintop to scream about how my people have been treated, but instead considered the feelings and sensitivities of others. On the other side, I have also talked too much (or even griped) at the wrong time when I could have just said a few words and gotten my point across. I have many grievances and maybe that is my “major issue” to use your term but it is hard to know when to speak and when to stay silent. Thoughtful post that will help me again and again I am sure.



5 Belinda Munoz October 26, 2009 at 9:06 pm

@Eduard, you’re absolutely right. We abuse our freedom when in our recklessness of using it we hurt others.

@LPC, I think self-monitoring is the best way to go. It gets easier overtime. I really like how you boiled it down to satisfying a need vs. offering value. One is to satisfy the self, the other is to help others. This of course applies in varying degrees depending on context.

@Patty, I’m glad you got that I was trying to be a bit amusing! I thought it would lighten things up a bit at the halfway point where things get a little intense at times.

I think I would’ve done the same thing you did especially when comments are solicited. I’m not sure why we often rush to “save” someone — I’m very familiar with this behavior as well which I find self-defeating in a group effort context. How else do we improve anything if we don’t justly assess what needs work?

And like you said, I do think that sometimes, we invite comments when we’re really unable to receive them constructively. We get defensive, our egos get bruised, and who knows what else. I personally like knowing people who will give me an honest assessment if/when I ask them. I tend to value their opinion quite a bit.

@Ben, I hear you. For me, I’ve gotten better at not being overly emotional and so I feel I’ve improved at knowing when to speak and when to stay silent. Good skills to have but may not come naturally.


6 Justin- October 27, 2009 at 4:24 am

I’ve just decided that every one has some struggle to deal with. Hers may be low self esteem that made her feel it necessary to flaunt materials. She may of just been proud of being recently married. The thing is that all people have some kind of struggle. Its not good to just focus on the struggles of the poor. Just help people where you can when you can. Whether they are rich or poor. Polite or gaudy. Our examples can change this world.


7 Sol October 27, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Words when uttered are lasting to the hearer, good or bad. They could make or scar the object, the intentions of the speaker may be unfeigned but could be misinterpreted. I wish I have guarded my spoken words, but I could not take them back and no explanations are enough to wipe out the pains and scars they have caused.

I do not care much of how a person looks or how he or she presents him/herself. What is inside of his or her heart is revealed by actions and speech. I would count that “case” as only a display of insecurity or mood. It could be just a casual wear for her. . . (?).

Freedom of speech to me means expressing or protecting one’s rights.


8 Catherine October 27, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Hey Belinda, what a wonderful post my dear. I have been in that situation many times and your post brought to mind an old saying from my youth “judge not lest ye be judged”.

It was brought home to me with a bang when others who weren’t shy about expressing themselves mentioned that THEY considered me inappropriate (over-dressed, over-jewelled) on particular occasions. And that was how I learned not to judge.

Those incidents made me question myself about the way I dress and what I decided was, I will continue to dress to please myself, and wearing jewellery is part of dressing for me, and what others think is irrelevant. The external trappings make absolutely no difference to what’s on the inside.

Be well.


9 Schmabes October 27, 2009 at 12:43 pm

If I had a Native American name it would be He-puts-foot-in-mouth.

This is a very complex and rich subject. I think that we must at all times bare in mind that when we are speaking our minds that it is about us–WE are having the issue/reaction etc. Keeping the focus on ourselves lessens the possibility that we will lapse into judgement. One also finds that s/he will be tasting shoe leather less and less.

Another thing that comes up for me is sometimes I don’t speak my truth for fear of being “rejected”. I frequently find my self at odds with the crowd. But more and more this is ok with me.

Keep up the good work.


10 Fr. Michael October 27, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Thanks Belinda.
Here’s a great quote that I think is a good rule to live by with regarding to speaking / criticizing:
“…criticize someone precisely in the measure that you are willing to help that person deal with the problem you have raised. If your commitment to help is nil, you should remain silent; if your willingness to help is moderate, your critique should be moderate; if you are willing to do all in your power to address the situation with the person, speak the whole truth. (Fr. Robert Barron, The Strangest Way)


11 Lora O'Connor October 28, 2009 at 7:30 am

Thanks Belinda and friends for such a great conversation thread – love the discourse between the personal and the political…..( as Gloria Steinem said it IS the political.
Thanks for this great blog Belinda!
best, Lora


12 Malo October 30, 2009 at 9:09 pm

I agree with the common sentiment to speak responsibly. There’s so much wisdom in Fr. Michael’s post, I love it!


13 Belinda Munoz November 2, 2009 at 12:36 am

@Justin, yes, true. Or she could simply prefer to present herself in this manner.

@Sol, it’s quite possible you’re harder on yourself than those you feel you’ve hurt by your words. And yes, looking past the superficial layers is always the best way to go.

@Catherine, I just want to thank you for your sincere comments and for sharing your own experience. I love how you were open to the criticism, that you gave it consideration (instead of the easy way out of just brushing it off) and decided you were fine as you were — comfortable in your own skin dressing the way you dress. I think that this is the goal that most of us strive for. To be confident in who we are regardless of what others think. In my book, you are light years evolved from your critics.

@Schmabes, ha! You and me both! You’re right, it is more telling about our own issues when we speak our minds about things that don’t make or break anything. And again, yes, I’m very familiar with the fear of getting “rejected”. I remind myself that I should celebrate my being different instead of hiding it — it could give others permission to do the same, and be liberated in the process.

@Fr. Michael, good stuff. Thanks.

@Lora, I appreciate you stopping by! I totally agree with Gloria, too.

@Malo, yes, something we would all benefit from if we practiced at all times.


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