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Listening to silence: discovering your self-worth without a single word

Alex de Panama
3 min readJun 23, 2024

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If you happen to find yourself alone among strangers; keep silent.

Epictetus, handbook, 33.2

This morning, as I sipped my coffee and flipped through Epictetus’ Handbook (a book I believe everyone should have a copy of), I came across this quote.

Recently, I have been reflecting on how I always feel the need to fill the silence, or talk a lot of rubbish to people. Have you ever thrown out a joke for the sake of it, it doesn’t land, and you feel stupid? “Why did I say that?” I always ask myself, replaying it over and over in my head before bed later that night.

Why do we feel the need to do this?

I realised it was my inner child crying out “please, let them like me”, echoing memories of being overlooked in games or judged by the colour of my skin.

A need for acceptance was almost hard wired into me from an early age. But this is a learned behaviour, and like all learned behaviours, it can be rewritten.

It’s fascinating how much of our adult behaviour stems from our wounded inner child. These unresolved feelings that linger for decades. No one teaches us to look inward and speak to this child, who is always there, begging for attention and influencing our behaviour.

No one provides the tools to soothe them, to look them in the eyes and say, “I’m listening, and I’m sorry. But it’s going to be OK”.

Being silent among strangers doesn’t mean sitting on a bus without talking (I cringe when my phone accidentally plays music without my AirPods connected). Epictetus refers to those moments when you feel you should be connected to those around you — like colleagues in the office or friends at a bar — yet you still feel isolated and alone.

It’s in those moments, for me, that I felt a greater need to prove myself. Almost as if not feeling connected to these people was a negative reflection on me and me alone. That joke you told earlier that fell flat? Now you have to try even harder to gain their approval, right?

But why is it that way?

What if we flip the paradigm? What if not feeling connected is because of their inability to connect with us? Why does it always have to be our fault?

In these moments, Epictetus advises us to stop trying to prove ourselves. If we have nothing to say or don’t feel valued, we should simply sit and observe. It is no reflection of who you are as a person. That judgement often comes from within.

I’m not suggesting you go to a meet up with friends and not say a word all night. That would be awkward.

But try only speaking when you really feel that you have something to add to the conversation (and perhaps the lives of those around you).

Never feel the need to prove yourself.

Your existence is enough. It’s as much others’ responsibility to connect with you as it is yours to connect with them. Embrace your values, passions, and interests. Stand tall and let your authentic self attract the right people into your life naturally.

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Alex de Panama

An ex-primary school teacher on a journey of career fulfilment and self discovery.