The sweet sound of silence seems to be more of a bitter one these days. But what is it about silence we don’t like? Is there something inherently evil about silence? Does it always hide something murky and uncomfortable? It feels like it sometimes, but I’d say the answer is no.
I don’t think it’s a jump to say that we as a society hate silence. I mean, we’re constantly labeling it as “awkward” anytime it happens in a conversation. You ever notice when everybody in a large crowd gets quiet all of a sudden, and then that creeping sensation you get during it? In class the other day it happened, and the one of the few people talking got so uncomfortable she covered her face. Something about pausing and silence really makes us uncomfortable. But why?
I think part of the answer could be our phones, and how we use them. Thanks to the use of our phones, our life is filled with sounds and other things to keep our senses active. I fill the gaps in my time with music, whenever I have a long trip or even if I’m just doing my laundry. I also spend a lot of my downtime watching videos, or playing games, or scrolling through social media, etc. I think that it’s pretty fair to say that that’s a normal experience. So while we’re so used to having our senses activated in our downtime, I think it makes it where in social interactions, we feel like we need to fill in any space of silence. We get uncomfortable in silence because we aren’t used to it. It’s also kind of mysterious, too. We don’t know what the other person is thinking because they’re not actively saying it. Almost like the real-life form of the anticipation of waiting for an important text.
Honestly, I think we lose something in that. Silent moments can be important. I’ll even go as far to say that they can be nice. Yeah that’s right, I said it! First of all, we don't listen to understand much it seems like, we listen to reply. I'm guilty of it, too. But I think if we were more accepting of silent spaces in conversation, we wouldn't feel the pressure to jump in with a comment or reaction.
Silent moments can also be a great time to tune in to the present moment and collect yourself. They can be great moments to reflect and slow down. Of course, talking can be reflective, too. But, if we spend too much time with one and not the other, we’re losing something. Plus all of our moments spent talking can be stressful. We have to focus on saying something smart, something profound, avoid saying the wrong things, etc. When we’re talking, we’re kind of vulnerable. Silence can be a nice break from that, so long as we don’t immediately label it as wrong.
It’s a nice reminder that we don’t always have to be strong, smart, whatever in every moment. We deserve our moments where we aren’t the best, otherwise when we're in a low we hold ourselves to impossible standards. In our culture, sometimes it feels like the best is the only adequate thing to be. And trying to be the best is so exhausting. That kind of culture creates the kind of environment where a successful student gets upset because they got a grade in the high 80s. Is that related to silence? I don't know honestly. But I think if we had more silent moments, where we aren't trying to be the best person around. That to be a good person you don't have to be the best person.
Take some time to enjoy the silence. It’s like smelling the roses but without a scent. Take some time to listen to the roses, I guess? Regardless, I hope you get some moments in your day where you can enjoy a silent moment where you can stop and relax.
I'll leave you with the flip side of the same problem. One other problem we have with silence is breaking it. Once silence has taken over a space, we feel like we can't break it. We give silence this negative choke hold on a situation when it's usually just a neutral thing, just happening. It's why we get so uncomfortable being the one talking when the class gets quiet. There's this idea that breaking a silence is disturbing somebody, creating a scene, etc. If we're gonna normalize making silent moments, we have to normalize breaking them too. And that'll have some good effects, too, when a silence is actually bad. When communication has broken down and negativity's in the air, being able to feel comfortable breaking the silence could help get things back on track.
No matter what, I think we should be more comfortable working around silence. It could be a nice change of pace. And if it isn't, then there's no need to force silence in, just let it in when it's comfortable.
Fun little story to sign off with this time. This restaurant I used to go to had it written on the menu that if you enjoyed your time there, they'd love a review. But if it wasn't such a great time, they had a reminder that "silence is golden".