The Necessity of Silence

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written here. I have to believe it is because I had nothing to say. It’s a novel concept these days – keeping one’s trap shut when one has nothing to say. We’re encouraged to engage, to talk our ruddy heads off, to comment on every news story, to chatter on about celebrity mishaps and political misdeeds. We get attention for jumping into the latest outrage. We link and like and re-whatever. The nonsensical cacaphony pummels us, creating mental calluses until one death, one wrongdoing, one injustice is the equivalent of a new gadget or somebody’s after-baby body or the on-the-rocks marriage of strangers.

canstockphoto5683152

To allow ourselves to grow tender again is a daring thing these days. We might not be seen. We might not have presence. The last year of personal and family mishaps, the last few years of vitriolic public discourse, the constant stream of news about violence happening in real time, every minute of every day, have hardened me in unflattering ways. Inevitably there is no physical armor or fortress that can protect a person from the bruising of being a human in this world. We only get to select our weapon/defense of choice: love or hate.

There is a silence that matches our best possibilities when we have learned to listen to others. We can master the art of being quiet in order to be able to hear clearly what others are saying…We need to cut off the garbled static of our own preoccupations to give to people who want our quiet attention.

Eugene Kennedy, American Philosopher

canstockphoto6047336

I’ve made mistakes over the last couple of years. I’ve dotted some comment forums with spicy, sharp words refuting ignorance or hatred. Words were, as they are for many people, my weapon of choice. There is approximately 2.5 seconds of satisfaction before the shame sets in. This is not the person I set out to be. The extremes have come to dominate our civil conversations – normalizing behaviors that one wouldn’t accept from a toddler. Not just the tantrum in the White House, but a lot of us are slowly giving up bits of ourselves to anger and propaganda.

The argument for speaking up is so that one is not complacent or complicit or condoning something despicable. Many of us want to be part of the solution in a world where only the loudest voices are heard. Some of us just like to hear the sound of our own voice. I’ve started to ask myself who is listening, does my opinion carry any weight or make any difference, and do I have anything of value to add? The answers follow: a handful of people, no, and usually not.

There are 7.7 billion people on this planet, with 3.5 billion able to access the internet. A lot of people are speaking up. And many of them are the people who should – erudite, witty, sharp observers. Some are compassionate and welcoming and have ideas to move forward. Some speak out of lived experiences. Others of us are just meme repeaters. Somebody has already posted our thought times a thousand and added a picture. You could argue in the power of boosting a hashtag – a lot of social movements have them as their rallying cry. Maybe I’ve become a little too precious – refusing to become an indistinguishable part of a mob. Or what we sometimes call humanity.

I’m reading Paul Kingsnorth’s Savage Gods and it’s hitting me right in the solar plexus.

We are building a world in which silence is a crime: a waste of something. An empty thing which must be filled. Ours is a world of metaphors and sentences, unpunctuated, flowing on faster and faster, building in rhythm and urgency until they crash, fatally, into the last page of the book.

Savage Gods, Paul Kingsnorth, 2019

For the last couple of days, I’ve been unscheduled. The family has been off to work and school. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt myself. Solitude and silence allow me to sink inward, to reconnect with the person I am, not one buffeted about by external voices and news and appointments and crises. I have devolved into a tender little meat sack, all vulnerability and 70s ballads. I’ve been calling it a need for decompression, which suggests a forthcoming outward expansion. Instead, my inner tension releases. I have tears. I do little ridiculous dances about the house. I meditate, imagining that I am physically putting aside one anxiety after another.

canstockphoto16447035

Without those moments, those protected snippets of time, I forget who I am. I forget that it is better to remain silent than to lash out in frenzied anger. I forget that I can be circumspect and reasoned in the face of someone else’s frenzied anger. I forget that I don’t need to have an opinion on everything. I don’t have to weigh and judge every byte of information that comes my way. There are many people who are much better at responding in the moment. I am not that person and never have been, and I have to believe there is still room in this world for slow reaction times and thoughtfulness.

Sometimes I think my silence comes from paralysis. If you practice seeing any issue from multiple angles, you learn that no one is ever truly right. My passion has never been dogma. It has always been the pursuit of knowledge in hopes of finding wisdom. That’s a soft sell in a world that is full of know-it-alls. Truth is now treated as a perspective, not something in accordance with fact or reality. People seem to require very little of either to draw their own conclusions.

canstockphoto29460775Silence is not, in and of itself, an indicator of virtue or vice. It is what happens in that space that makes it valuable. Like sleep, it gives our brain time to integrate information, instead of speeding onto to the next shiny thing. It gives us space to remember who we are – and in a world that insists on talking increasingly louder and faster, who we are is all we really have to hold onto.

57 Comments on “The Necessity of Silence

  1. Send this to Huffington post

    [image: photo] *Carolyn Wilhelm* Curriculum Writer and Author, Wise Owl Factory LLC

    cwilhelm@thewiseowlfactory.com

    The Wise Owl Factory

    On Sat, Oct 26, 2019 at 11:24 AM The Green Study wrote:

    > Michelle at The Green Study posted: “It’s been a few weeks since I’ve > written here. I have to believe it is because I had nothing to say. It’s a > novel concept these days – keeping one’s trap shut when one has nothing to > say. We’re encouraged to engage, to talk our ruddy heads off, to comment” >

    Like

    • I think it counts as already published at this point, but thanks for the compliment. There are pieces in the pipeline, potentially never to be heard from again. I just keep sending them out there, oblivious to the odds.

      Like

    • Thank you. I’m glad there are people who can respond to the moment. I just like to turn things over in my mind, verify facts, and then try to figure out either an effective response or action in response. There’s so many things going on all at once, that it takes a lot of work just to focus!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Donna. So much is happening in the world that makes us constantly defensive, we forget what we’re protecting in the first place. Those answers seem only to come when we can quiet our minds and focus.

      Like

  2. There is so much going on at the same time, it’s just too much and all I want to do is cover my ears. I don’t weigh in nearly as often as I used to, because the “conversations” that ensue are, for the most part, so ugly it’s unbearable.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve started to play “straight man” in my responses to people. I act like they’re not being complete shits and respond to the issue at hand. I save sarcasm and swearing for conversations with friends. Responding with flat affect really aggrieves people itching for a fight, so I admit to finding some pleasure in that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have done that a few times as well — when my brain kicks in before my mouth does — and it definitely works with anyone who is looking for a fight. I’m astounded by the growing number of people who do just want to fight, anyone will do.

        Like

  3. Ouf. I think I need to set this post as my homepage. Give me a gentle reminder before I log on to social media to ask myself “Do you think this post/response will have a positive effect?” before going all out on the keyboard. Thanks for not staying silent on this! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am awful. I NEVER see black or white. So my world is always in chaos, and I never agree with anyone. At least not completely. This post is amazing to me because I keep thinking through this whole silence thing (been an issue for a long time now). You might have noticed (or not) that I never post anything political unless it’s about animals. That is a conscious decision for many reasons, including my own mental health, not wanting to contribute to dissension, it being too time-consuming to fully articulate my very complicated positions (that change the moment I write them down), etc. But I feel guilt often that I am being complicit if I am silent because that is what we are told. We are told that is how the Nazis came to power, for instance. But people did speak up, and they still came to power. So the people who were silent were able to help behind the scenes. I view myself as a more behind the scenes sort of person. Not sure that makes sense. But I do value my mental health and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wonder too, as writers, if we train ourselves to see detail and nuance. That’s how we know nothing is ever straightforward and that there is no bandwagon we wouldn’t have to hop off of eventually. My first usual response to “everyone else is doing it” is to absolutely not do what is being done. Lots of people shouting, talking, expressing opinions about something is my first tipoff to keep my mouth shut and listen.

      In terms of mental health, I try to weigh expression versus repression – there’s a downside to excess of either approach. The optimum is to translate anger or upset into concrete action that actually improves the situation, but again, awareness of complexity can really muck up deciding on an action to take.

      Like

  5. Lovely. I especially appreciated: “I have devolved into a tender little meat sack, all vulnerability and 70s ballads.”
    Good move!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know it. There’s been a lot of John Denver and Carole King in my house lately. Reminds me of when I was a kid. I had a little transistor radio I’d listen to – all easy listening and classical music, because I was born an old lady.

      Like

  6. Bravo! You know, I do wish my husbands ex wife had read this … because she needs some silence. I have recently learnt this too. We don’t need to give our voice an outing at every moment and from that little moment of self control there follows a wonderful feeling of peace. As for the ex wife, I’m done with her for good now. I know this all sounds rather random and forgive me, but your beautifully written post resonated with me. Thank you. Katie

    Like

    • Glad it resonated. I have a long list of “please shut up” people, but I doubt anything I’d write would help, unless I printed it out and stuffed it in their pie holes. Some people have no awareness and sometimes, it’s easy to tolerate harmless chatter. But the loud ones with unending opinions on everything are exhausting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Those latter ones… A new trick. I watched in awe as my boddisatva listened attentively to a loud bigot, with every sign of interest but no input, not commenting. Result: the flow stopped. I guess he felt heard? I hope I can remember this in future.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Michelle, My name is Kevin Shearer. I write poetry and something you said reminded me of something I wrote that I want to share with you and you have my permission to share this with others as long as you give me credit where credit is due. This poem is called:
        Talk Less-Listen More (C) 2005 Kevin Shearer

        As you begin each day anew, try this out in all you do.
        Exercise some thoughtfulness and listen more-talk less.

        You can’t fully understand without first heeding this command:
        Internalize and don’t ignore: Talk less-Listen more.

        Listen more-talk less and understanding will progress.
        Talk less-listen more and you will know more than before.

        Talk less-listen more read the sign above the door.
        Listen more-talk less. Enhance you’re life’s effectiveness.

        One good step that you can take is chosing not to be a fake.
        Practice conscientiousness and listen more-talk less.

        Blessings,
        Kevin Shearer

        Liked by 3 people

  7. Michelle,
    Everyone talking, and no one listening? We get talked at from every direction, media, schoolrooms, pulpits, politicians. You do wonder if anyone’s listening, not to refute or argue, but to understand.

    There’s more to say when someone truly wants to hear and understand. Some say understanding leads to love.

    Yet another stellar post. You probably speak for many people, including me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Katherine. There are times when the barrage of conversation feels like a sensory assault. I know when I feel this way, there is no listening happening. It feels better to retreat, regain my center, and then re-enage. Then I know I will at least have the capacity to listen.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Just what I needed to read. My practice is to respond in the moment then delete – hopefully before ever posting and sometimes, moments after. You I think it’s the feeling of impotence that moves me to at least throw out some pithy or bitchy response. And yes – then I think, this is not who I want to be. Yes for turning inward to the quiet. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make a key point – the paralyzing impotence of anger or sadness or whatever is gripping us at the moment is too easy and a very human hook. We want to let out a howl to the world. There are times when I think this is helpful, if we can clearly state what we are feeling. More often, we react in anger, which is usually a secondary emotion to pain. Instead of saying “I feel sad and vulnerable”, we aim our verbal weapons outward. Instead of explaining why something makes us angry, we react defensively and go on attack. I keep trying to remind myself, “Slow down – what’s really happening here?” It’s a constant battle.

      Like

  9. I’ve never thought of my silence as paralysis, I’ve always thought of it as my strength. An active way to re-group myself and to demonstrate to those who bother to pay attention to me that I know what is important and what is rubbish. People who always has something to say about everything wear me out, make me wonder if they have any self-awareness at all.

    Like

    • I suppose silence, like any other approach, can have different motivations. Sometimes it’s paralysis, sometimes it’s a choice, sometimes it just seems appropriate. I think we live in a culture that actively encourages people to have knee-jerk opinions and an environment that seems to equalize everyone’s opinion, regardless of experience or expertise. Discernment becomes a critical skill – about the opinions of others as well as one’s own.

      Like

    • I agree with you, but there are so many people on every side of an issue that I have no illusion anything I might say in a public arena is useful. There are more high profile, learned, and eloquent people saying the things I believe. I feel like all I could add would be “Yeah, what he/she/they said.” And I think there has to be room for people who are thinking on a longer trajectory and not rapidly engaging at every moment.

      Like

  10. This resonates with me although I worry. like the previous responder, that those of us with sensitivity will fall into a bruised silence while the insensitive will take this for indifference and assume victory. That said, thanks for a valuable contribution in trying times!

    Like

    • At this point in our culture, it seems there is no opinion left unsaid – I’d just be seconding someone else’s thoughts. I’ve certainly been in a position where my silence has been misinterpreted, but I’m not sure that should be a driving motivation for me to prematurely open my trap. Sometimes my initial reaction to something is profane and violent. I know enough to take a moment or ten to get myself sorted.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. It’s interesting that you’re in this space. I’m currently moving in a different direction. I find that writing things out helps me define … consolidate … maybe even more fully experience them. But I’ve never been able to get into the journaling habit. I like writing for someone to read, and hope for a response, interaction. Anyway, over the past couple years some periods have been so difficult and chaotic, I’ve wanted to write but kept waiting for that perfect moment when I’d be able to grasp and write out the whole. Only usually the perfect moment didn’t come – or, more likely, it would be swept aside by some new crisis. I’ve retreated into silence, because that’s what I do, but it’s been lonely rather than solitary. It hasn’t been healing. I recently decided to start blogging every day, and essentially it’s becoming a public style of journal. I don’t post every day – sometimes a post takes several days to complete, because I limit the time I allow for it. But I’m posting more often, telling just that part of a story that’s happened rather than waiting for events to reach a conclusion, not worrying about whether or not I’m adding value or merely noise. I’ve decided I don’t, at this time, care. What I need now is to put down words to capture my life, my thoughts. If it’s just noise, no one is forced to listen. But a few do, and when we get to interact, that blesses me.

    Like

    • For me, (internal) silence is a holy meeting ground where dialogue between a true, eternal wisdom and personal perception freely interact without interruption. In silent prayer and meditation, I have heard the voice of wisdom but only in internal silence and that internal silence IS the voice of wisdom (for me).

      Blessings,
      Kevin Shearer

      Liked by 1 person

    • Writing tends to give me the distance and the introspection to process raw information. It takes a great deal of energy to engage with others – at least for this introvert. As I get older, I recognize that it is simply not possible to think and write and also be constantly engaged. I really like how you explained what works for you – it makes sense – you clearly know what your needs are and are working to meet them. Which is the best any of us can do.

      Like

      • The nice thing about engaging this way – via blog comments – is you can control the timing of it. Sometimes I’m better able to respond to people than to others. And, of course, writing a blog post means that when friends ask “What’s happening?” and I just don’t feel like telling the story over and over again, I simply send them a link. A few take the attitude that if I can’t be bothered to talk to them they can’t be bothered to read, but most read and then we can skip the tedious information-sharing and move on to a more personal, individual discussion. Or not. Anyway, yeah, this does work for me.

        Like

  12. One of my favorite quotations (not sure who can be actually credited as the first to say it):
    “If you can’t improve on the silence, don’t break it!”

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Wonderful post, Michelle. I love thinking about listening, and it is enjoyable to actively listen to others, which is rewarded by a more thorough understanding of the people speaking and the world at large.

    Like

    • Thanks, Carla. I often find myself recalibrating mid-conversation when I realize that I’m getting lost in my own thoughts and not actively listening. Active listening is one of those things that keeps you right in the moment, with the person you’re sharing space with – but a skill that constantly has to be practiced.

      Like

  14. The Wise Old Owl-a saying-
    Hey everyone, years ago, I heard this saying and never forgot it. I wan to share it with all of you. It called:
    The Wise Old Owl- (I don’t know who wrote it but it goes like this:
    A wise old owl sat on an oak.
    The more he saw, the less he spoke.
    The less he spoke, the more he heard.
    That’s why the owl’s a wise old bird.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. This is the first time I have, there are a few first I will notate. The first time I have really tried to sit down and discover WordPress and just what it entails and you are one of the first blogs I decided to read. Silence indeed is GOLDEN and that is more than just a thought up description. I have been thinking and pondering silence myself lately. It is now something I crave intensely. I love getting up early in the morning and sitting in it; I strive to find it anywhere. I discovered it the other day in a parking lot while I waited for my daughter to finish her appointment. I don’t understand when people get up in the morning, especially my husband, will IMMEDIATELY, turn on the television. Now when I hear the NOISE as it invades my tranquil thoughts, I cringe. I wish that more often people realized that peace is directly related to a tranquil mind. Then they want to multi task with the noise. They turn on the television, try to make phone calls and speaking with other simultaneously which just makes me want to run. I will share this with you Michelle and I don’t even KNOW you but I made a quote of my own:
    “Open your heart – Close your mouth” ®
    Thanks for sharing about this.
    An aspiring but unorganized writer
    Angie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading this and commenting, Angie. I know for some people, background noise is comforting. I find this is the case especially for people who grew up in homes where the TV was always on or there was always noise. We have a mixed household in that regard, so it’s taken some compromise and negotiation. I am an early riser (4am), though, so I always manage to get a few hours of complete silence in before the day starts. Except for the great horned owls hooting outside (so lovely!). Thanks for sharing your perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

      • So true, Michelle. Compromise is key here. I noticed when my husbands sister came to visit us; she took great comfort in the TV, just as he does. There is nothing like being an early riser; it is said, “The early bird gets the worm” and the noises of the morning are so beautiful. Thanks for your response.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Neil. I have to admit to having some sensory issues – especially if I’m anxious – noise and chatter begins to feel like an assault. Social media has its positive and negative issues. I try to remind myself that it’s a tool like any other – we can use it when we need and put it away when we don’t. Of course this ignores the addictive nature of it, which I sometimes fall prey to, but as someone who could easily become a hermit, it does give me a way to still be part of the world.

      Liked by 2 people

Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: