Springing from the previous step which considered the danger of slander and judging one's brother, we now see the primary cause of that vice and how it can be conquered.
Our talkativeness, John argues, imperils our souls, and through it we reveal our vainglorious nature. Rather than expressing our holiness or wisdom, talkativeness in reality reveals a host of different vices. It is "a sign of ignorance, a doorway to slander, a leader of jesting, a servant of lies, a ruin of compunction, a summoner of despondency, a messenger of sleep, a dissipation of recollection, the end of vigilance, a cooling of zeal, the darkening of prayer." We can see from this list that vocalizing all of our thoughts can lead us to great sin and reveal our ignorance of what is truly valuable.
As spiritual sojourners we are called to the discipline of what John calls intelligent silence. Such silence creates the opposing virtues to the vices arising from talkativeness. In a hidden way, we journey toward God in our prayer, compunction, mourning and recollection, always abiding with him in our silence. Through these virtues we come to recognize our sins and soon learn to hold our tongue. We should be lovers of silence, John tells us, for in it we draw close to God and remember his great mercy to us.
Briefly, John describes three possible causes of talkativeness. First, through leading a relaxed lifestyle we give free reign to our tongue. Like any other member of our body, John states, our tongue requires discipline and often of the most severe sort.
Secondly, talkativeness comes from vainglory. As often happens to those involved in spiritual or intellectual athleticism, there is a tendency to become puffed up through individual achievements or gifts.
Finally, gluttony, if not restrained, will give way to chattering. Through keeping a strict rule over our stomachs it would seem that our tongue loses its strength.
1-2 Talkativeness and related vices.
Talkativeness is the throne of vainglory on which it loves to preen itself and show off. Talkativeness is a sign of ignorance, a doorway to slander, a leader of jesting, a servant of lies, the ruin of compunction, a summoner of despondency, a messenger of sleep, a dissipation of recollection, the end of vigilance, the cooling of zeal, the darkening of prayer.
3 Intelligent silence: the guardian of prayer and spiritual zeal.
Intelligent silence is the mother of prayer, freedom from bondage, custodian of zeal, a guardian of our thoughts, a watch on our enemies, a prison of mourning, a friend of tears, a sure recollection of death, a painter of punishment, a concern with judgment, a servant of anguish, foe of license, a companion of stillness, the opponent of dogmatism, a growth of knowledge, a hand to shape contemplation, hidden progress, the secret journey upward. For the man who recognizes his sins has taken control of his tongue, while the chatterer has yet to discover himself as he should.
4 The lover of silence seeks and finds intimacy with God and the light He alone can give. The unguarded tongue brings sorrow.
The lover of silence draws close to God. He talks to Him in secret and God enlightens him. . . Peter wept bitterly for what he had said. He had forgotten the one who declared: "I said: I will guard my ways so that I may not sin with my tongue" (Ps. 38:1). He had forgotten too the saying, "Better to fall from a height to the ground than to slip with the tongue" (Ecclus. 20:18).
5 The causes of talkativeness.
Someone who had asked me once about stillness told me that talkativeness invariable results from one of the following causes: from a bad or relaxed lifestyle ( "the tongue," he said, "is a member of the body, like the rest, and therefore needs to be trained in its habits"); or it comes from vainglory, a particular problem with ascetics; or it comes at times from gluttony, which is why many who keep a hard check on the stomach can more easily restrain the blathering tongue.
6 Overcoming talkativeness through the remembrance of death and compunction.
The man who is seriously concerned about death reduces the amount of what he has to say, and the man who has received the gift of spiritual mourning runs from talkativeness as from a fire.
7-8 The lover of silence cherishes his room; the talker finds it to be a prison.
The lover of stillness keeps his mouth shut, but the man who likes to ramble outside is driven from his cell by this passion.
The man who has known the odor of heavenly fire runs from a gathering of men, like a bee from smoke, since smoke drives off a bee just as company militates against a man.
9-10 A difficult virtue to attain, but precious.
It is hard to keep water in without a dike. But it is harder still to hold one's tongue.
This is the eleventh step. He who succeeds in taking it has with one blow cut off a host of evils.