“Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.” This saying has been attributed to Plato, the Greek author & philosopher (427 BC – 347 BC), but a search of his writings did not produce this exact statement. Perhaps the person who coined this phrase realized that with their name next to it there would be little interest for speakers to include it in their speeches, so by attributing it to the highly respected Plato, it got the attention they were hoping for.
Nevertheless, this still does not take away the potency of the claim. As young San Francisco multimedia and communication specialist Ally Leung commented: “We’ve been blessed with a very precious gift, my friends: the gift of talking. The gift of language. The gift of being able to express our feelings, emotions, ideas or plans into something called words. But, alas, as with every gift, overusing it may lead to unexpected results. Speaking and listening in a balanced way are imperative in our world. The noise of useless words that many of us are throwing away in an attempt to get a grip on someone else’s attention, creates a thick fog that makes it really difficult to actually understand each other. Ironically, the more we talk, the less we’re able to communicate.”
But I did find while searching through the works of Plato, that on one occasion Socrates was talking with Critias, and asked whether or not there was any profit to be found in practicing wisdom or self-control and if it was wise to practice them. Socrates says: “If indeed, as we were supposing at first, the wise man had been able to distinguish what he knew and did not know, and that he knew the one and did not know the other, and to recognize a similar faculty of discernment in others, there would certainly have been a great advantage in being wise… and we should not have attempted to do what we did not know, but we should have found out those who knew, and have handed the business over to them and trusted in them.”1
In any case, the originator of this quote wants us to keep this in mind: When we feel inspired to make a statement about something we are thinking in response to something we’ve heard, just ask ourselves whether or not anyone will really benefit from what we have to say or is it that we just want to get it off our chest. In others words, will it turn on a light for them to see something they otherwise might not have known unless we speak up about it? Then we can share what we have in our heart and on our mind. But if our desire to say something comes only from feeling like we have to contribute because we don’t want to be left out of the conversation, then let’s just smile and keep it to ourselves. As the originator of this quote points out, we can either be considered a wise person who has something important to say, or an unwise person who just wants to say something. – Dr. Robert R Seyda
1 Charmides, or Temperance by Plato (380 BC), translated by Benjamin Jowett