I See and Remain Silent, the HSP Superpower
Most HSPs I know assume that we as a group are mostly introverts (which is true, about 70%), quiet and observant types. This idea often serves us well in assessing situations and navigating through life. One of our primary traits is the trait of observing and then processing — deeply. This deep thinking is often, and I would say mostly, done quietly. So, a model for most HSPs might be watching, sometimes listening, then remaining still and quiet to aid our thinking.
We also know that all HSPs are not introverts; however, we are all observant. Sometimes we observe and do not voice our opinions for various reasons. I suggest a few in the next section.
Queen Elizabeth I of England had a motto in Latin: Video et Taceo, which is translated to mean “I see and remain silent. “ Although her motivations for its use might have been different from what a typical HSP might have, it seems a fitting motto for highly sensitive people.
How can this be interpreted?
There is a multitude of ways this phrase can be interpreted. Let’s look at a few.
1. To observe and plot — This might have been the way Elizabeth I looked at this. As a female monarch, she was likely scrutinized for every move she made. There were only a few key advisors she trusted. To listen, observe and then silently plot her next move may have been the motivation for the motto. It was in three words — a warning. It added an air of mystery to her rule.
2. To observe and learn — perhaps, a softer, gentler interpretation might be that she was quietly observing and learning as she watched. This is not a bad strategy for a monarch who wishes to make wise decisions. Nor is it a bad strategy for HSPs.
3. To observe and not misspeak — Mark Twain astutely observed, “It is better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” The carefully studied approach ensures that one does not misspeak at least until all the data is processed. This is a conscientious approach for surety but might give the impression one is dull. I suspect some HSPs follow this line of thinking.
4. To be intimidated — Not likely what Elizabeth had in mind, although one never knows for sure. In this scenario, one does not talk because one is afraid to voice an opinion. Oh, if only more politicians followed this line of thinking. This is more a position of fear and not something that I think merits a motto. Living in the shadow of intimidation is not an ideal life.
5. To be manipulative — Silence can be quite intimidating. And because of this reason, it can be used as a clever tool of manipulation. Good for a royal, maybe not so, for a commoner. At its root with this underpinning, this is nothing more than leaving them guessing. And, silence can be intimidating.
6. To be cautious, clever, or mysterious — As noted before, it adds an air of mystery or intrigue. In some circles, it can be seen as a clever stratagem, as if in a negotiation, being quiet is seen as bluffing for better terms. It can also be seen as being cautious, careful, and calculated to mitigate risk — all behaviors HSPs might employ.
7. To be regal and judicious with words and response — this may be the reason Elizabeth chose this motto. It makes sense. To be silent makes her look regal as if petty dialogue is simply too common for her, and when she does speak, it carries weight and forces those courtiers to listen more intently.
Video et Taceo for HSPs
So, how does this apply to highly sensitive people? What stood out about this succinct phrase was the emphasis on watching, listening, and pausing, not responding immediately, but rather thinking, pondering, processing. Isn’t this what HSPs do naturally? Aren’t we generally the quiet, contemplative, sensitive types who are NOT the loudest in the room? Doesn’t keen observational skills require almost a quiet attention to detail? Doesn’t talking, speaking interfere in some ways with observation and learning?
I think that this style of learning and observing is natural for highly sensitive people. Because listening is not a passive process and is now considered active, as is speech, there can be some interference in learning if the two overlap. For example, in learning languages, it was often regarded as critical to have the student speak early on in the learning process to solidify elocution. Now, the thinking is that more time initially needs to be spent actively listening before speech attempts to learn the mechanics of the language before attempting meaningful speech. If you think about that, it makes perfect sense. Isn’t that how you learned your native language as a child? You listened long before you spoke.
Comprehension is enhanced with extended listening. Listening for speaking does not fully utilize memory, which is a requirement for learning long term. However, listening for comprehension lays a solid framework for later learning to speak and uses both short- and long-term memory. You could almost slap a post-it note over the whole thing with the phrase Video et Taceo.
Environmental sensitivity factors shape learning styles. These factors help an individual to navigate their world. Some of the individual’s learning style is foundational, i.e., genetic, but other factors come into play due to the environment. Is it then possible that a “video et taceo” style of learning or operating is native to HSPs? Think of our quiet observational nature. One could argue that Video et Taceo would generally be a good motto for HSPs.
Some would argue that being quiet is not always a virtue. But it seems for HSP being quiet is almost a native state, certainly for HSP introverts. Perhaps, being silent is a precursor for wisdom, foregoing the constant chattering of idle dialogue, to devote more brain time to observation and learning. My father used to say to me when I was talking too much, “Son, do you have something to say, or do you just want to say something?”
Silence is golden or, so we are told. Can HSPs use our silence and observations to add value to the world? At what point do we break the silence and speak our truth? How long do we let our observational brew percolate before serving up to an unsuspecting world? I sometimes wonder if we can be too silent for too long. What use is the wisdom we glean from the environment if we don’t share it? Just like with learning a language, at some point, you must attempt to speak, however feeble that may be. Breaking the silence is like breaking wind; you can only hold it in so long.
A multitude of quotations from wise humans.
What is your favorite quotation on silence that encapsulates your personal philosophy?
o Silence is a source of great strength. Lao Tzu
o In human intercourse, the tragedy begins, not when there is misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood. Henry David Thoreau
o All I insist on, and nothing else, is that you should show the whole world that you are not afraid. Be silent, if you choose, but when it is necessary, speak — and speak in such a way that people will remember it. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
o If I could, I would always work in silence and obscurity and let my efforts be known by their results. Emily Bronte
o Don’t waste words on people who deserve your silence. Sometimes the most powerful thing you can say is nothing at all. Mandy Hale
o The human heart has hidden treasures, in secret kept, in silence sealed; the thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures, whose charms were broken if revealed. Charlotte Bronte
o Keep silence for the most part, and speak only when you must, and then briefly. Epictetus
o Talk doesn’t cook rice. Chinese proverb
o Do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man. Iain Duncan Smith
o To hear, one must be silent. Ursula K. Le Guin
o Silence is an empty space; space is the home of the awakened mind. Buddha
Please share your thoughts in the comment section.