A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

Sometimes you need to shut up

Marshall (September 1948, age 37).  Sometimes you need to shut up

Kenner is one of my best students.  His ego has been much swelled by his recent publications. He’s going to Yale for his Ph.D. but he will fail unless he commits himself to the discipline of keeping his mouth shut.  Here’s why.  He needs the degree.  Professor Brooks and the others at Yale will be jealous of his success.  They have it in their power to give him the degree and the financial support he needs to live as a student providing he does not irritate or upset them, which he will surely do if he tries to impress them with his erudition.  They do not want to learn from him.  He has things to learn.  They have useful things to teach him.  Therefore, he needs to shut up.  It took me a long time to learn this.  The bible says otherwise but it is sometimes better to receive than to give.  

Me (October 2009, age 57).  Do you need to shut up?

I wish I’d learned this lesson a long time ago.  And it’s one I’m still learning.  If I learned it I know I would have fewer arguments with my wife, more friends, and be more successful at work.  In The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion says that once when she was arguing with her husband he said to her, “Why do you always have to be right?”  (She says she needed to be right because she always felt like she was wrong.  This may be true, but it is form of evasion, which has the unfortunate result of allowing the lesson to remain unlearned.)  Being smart (or not smart) is something you can’t do anything about, either you’re smart or you’re not.  But you can control what you say.  You don’t always have to tell the people around you how smart (or not smart) you are.  As Marshall advises sometimes it’s better to shut up, to receive rather than to give. 

Do you find yourself speaking up when you need to shut up?  Is this a lesson you need to learn?  Where in your life do you most need to apply it?  At home, school, or  work?

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Reading for this post

The Letters of Marshall McLuhan.  Selected and edited by Matie Molinaro, Corinne McLuhan, and Wiliam Toye. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 203.

Joan Didion.  The Year of Magical Thinking. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. p. 138.

Robert FritzThe Path of Least Resistance. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1989, p. 14-30.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, October 6th, 2009
Permalink 1930s and 40s, Business, Communication, Education, Vol. 1 No Comments

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