On Keeping My Mouth Shut

“The author should keep his mouth shut when his work begins to speak.” (Nietzsche)

mouthshutI don’t agree with Nietzsche on everything, but the above quote caught my eye a few days ago. I’d been working on my third novel, Voices in the Dark, and, without hesitation, I stood right up on my soapbox and delivered a sermon.(Don’t worry. It was very short.) At the time, I thought, This is a bit preachy. Might need to take it out. Instead, I kept on writing. Later that day, I came across Nietzsche’s quote.

And that got me to thinking about my days as a classroom teacher when I finally learned to put the textbook-type teacher plans behind me and to listen to my students. It had taken me a while, but I finally learned that telling the students what they were supposed to think and know, just didn’t work for me. It was much more effective for them to find out on their own, with a little assistance from me, of course. Kind of like life.        Hamlet-and-skull-on-stamp

What fun it was to sit in a circle with everyone and listen to their voices–their ideas. No doubt the students found their peers’ thoughts on Hamlet’s dilemma much more interesting to follow than words constantly falling from my mouth. The results of such interaction–or is it a lack of (on my part)–was unbelievably relevant and productive. Of course, it goes without saying that I kept a checklist of points for consideration at my fingertips–you know, just in case they missed something. And, usually, they did, but it was good I still had a reason for being there. They needed me to keep them on track, to call on the shy ones, and to pass around cookies.

Back to my novel:

Megan, the main character, is talking to her husband, Jake, about how society often views and reacts to others who are “different.” Referring to the main character played by Kevin Costner in the movie, Dances With Wolves, she says:

“Well, after all he goes through, Dances With Wolves, has a better understanding of human nature. You know, seeing the other side of the so-called savages. I don’t know. It’s something like separating the physical human being from his nature. We’re all human. Basically the same. But our nature is so individual, so much a result of our environment. And the two butt heads continually. Mankind is so quick to judge based on what someone looks like, how they live, where they live. It’s too bad we can’t all understand what’s really true.”

The last two sentences, especially the next to last, kind of jump out and grab the reader by the throat. I think that’s where I should zip it up.zipit

Keeping my mouth shut–to an extent– works in the classroom (if you want a thinking classroom)–as I’m sure it works in a business when the boss is trying to get fresh ideas. And, in fiction, as a rule of thumb, I think Nietzsche was right.It’s a simple thing, but we can think for ourselves. Or, at least, we should.

I can think of another place in life where I’m learning to keep my mouth shut, but that’s a bit of another story.

Would love to have feedback. What do you think?