The Appearance of Wisdom

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about squelching. Squelching (according to, “to put down, suppress, or silence, as with a crushing retort or argument”) is, in my opinion, one of the most detrimental habits people can adopt. But squelching usually sounds good–like wisdom–so it often isn’t recognized for what it is. It masquerades as common sense, as a voice of reason, or as the other side of the coin–as something as worthy of consideration as the side being presented. But it is none of these things.

Squelching rears its ugly head in all sorts of situations, and the people doing the squelching seem to be oblivious to their squelching ways, likely because their admonishments really sound like wisdom. Squelching often takes the form of warnings–warnings against perceived danger, against foolish choices, against heresy, or against any number of things. For example, if someone expressed her newfound appreciation for meditation to me, and I responded, “Well, you have to be careful about meditation–there’s a real spiritual world out there, and you’re opening yourself up to it by meditating,” I would be squelching. I believe there are healthy forms of meditation, just as there are unhealthy forms of it, but if my tendency is to jump immediately to warning about the possible negative effects, I’m killing her momentum and shutting her down. This is something that’s common to squelching–the person doing it may very well agree with what someone has just said, on some level; s/he just also feels that another perspective is needed, and it’s nearly always a negative one. But why do we think this? Why do we jump to the warning, rather than embracing what we can and allowing people their excitement? I haven’t been able to put my finger on exactly what the issue is, but I think it lies somewhere between fear and control.

When people squelch, it is common for others to join in with something like, “Oh, yes, that’s a good point too–you shouldn’t go overboard with that/you have to consider both sides of the issue.” Squelching is contagious, and it knocks the breath out of excitement and crushes the vulnerable. Squelching is the drug of the cynical and of people who operate out of fear.

My working hypothesis is that squelching resides as a nearly-unexamined (because it skates by nearly unnoticed) habit in the lives of those who practice it. The more we observe squelching, or the more we have been squelched ourselves, the more likely we are to pick up the practice. Squelching can be as culturally embedded as anything else, and it can quickly become one’s default way of interacting with the world. It is easy (it takes no thought), safe (for the squelcher), and almost always elicits a positive response from conversants besides the squelchee.

I’ve thought a lot about this passage of Colossians 2 with regard to squelching:

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” have “an appearance of wisdom,” but it is false wisdom, and squelching is just a variation on those themes. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, and squelching’s goal is to shut that freedom down, to squeeze the breath of life out of every good thing that enters a person’s life. Squelching would like nothing more than to see people stagnate, so afraid of being thought foolish that we cease venturing into uncharted waters. Earlier in Colossians 2, Paul says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” Amen, Paul.


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7 responses to “The Appearance of Wisdom

  1. Warren

    Do you feel like it’s ever OK to warn someone? I see/like the point you make, but this reminded me of our discussion about “approval” in a way, where it seemed like you felt it was never appropriate to use that language. I’m wondering if it’s kind of the same thing with this…

  2. lacy

    wow. “Squelching would like nothing more than to see people stagnate..” I’ve never thought of that being the aim of it, but it totally is– albeit unbeknownst (i think) to the squelcher.
    I also love this line: “Squelching is the drug of the cynical and of people who operate out of fear.”

  3. Sarah

    Ditto on liking the quote about fear and control. Wow! I definitely find myself squelching when I’m in fear or trying to control. When I squelch immediately I’m passing preliminary judgement without perhaps knowing the whole story about the issue. No more fear and yes to freedom!

  4. ben seltmann

    At long last I am seeing a bit of light at the end of a rather dark tunnel and how good to hear the same objective wisdom that broached the subject of the corruption of Christianity. As a recovering “Squelcher” I can appreciate the exposing of one of the most destructive ungodly curses that was gifted to us as a result of the hijacking of Gods’ Creation. If you would have the time and interest could we explore a few thoughts in regard to the corruption of Christianity that you likely have considered but I have not seen objectively considered or rarely at best? ben

  5. Pingback: Suggestion Saturday: January 15, 2011 | On The Other Hand

  6. I’ve definitely, like in the last 2 years, have noticed this weakness in myself. I’m pretty intellectually competitive, and that definitely comes out when I encounter someone arguing for/against something I’m passionate about on the other side. It’s something I try to work on. Good to know it has a name.

  7. Sarah King

    I’m just reading this and it’s March 17th. But I have to say something because, once again, I feel like your words exactly express what I’ve been going through for the past year.

    About a year ago I was a part of a small group that loved to squelch. Although, I didn’t call them squelchers. I called them shutter-downers, because it always seemed like as soon as unknown or uncomfortable territory would arise (feelings, questions, thoughts) they would shut people down by giving advice, quoting the Bible, or giving a lengthy explanation to the feelings/thoughts/questions at hand. I was so frustrated by these people who were scared to move forward into a REAL relationship with me. And eventually, I did exactly what they wanted….I shut down. I quit sharing, and I let them ramble on at me about all the things Christans need and should do. (Which is another thing I find squelchers love to do…use words like “should” and “need”. “We should always remember that….” or “We just really need to try harder to….”) What I found was that, really, it wasn’t just my feelings being squelched, but the Spirit.

    Also, do you ever feel like you’re the only one who really notices the squelching? Sometimes I feel like I have a special squelching radar, which just makes it that much more frustrating. Like, when it happens, other people just nod their heads in agreement, as if to say, “great point, that is SO philosophical,” and inside I’m screaming and retreating even further away from any sort of REAL relationship with these people.

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