Tuesday, July 18, 2006

In silence

Silence... forbearance from speech or noise : muteness. absence of sound or noise : stilness. absence of mention: a :oblivion, obscurity b : secrecy

Reference: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

Basics. Definitions are useful. But what is silence, really?

First comes to mind the inability to talk. Silence is seen negatively for it denotes an inability to engage in speech, the defacto perceived means of communication between humans. The only one? Friends of ours, relatives, neighbors: everyday people like us.

Silence as a choice or obligation. Voluntarily or not the giving up of talking for a second, a minute, an hour or a lifetime. Quite frequently for a specific purpose or because of a specific reason: lying, profit, fear or shame. A handful of examples. Single mothers in less than liberal (by common standards societies), victims of rape or other perceived as shameful activity, homosexuals, refugees, spies, politicians, refugees.

Silence. To me silence is one of those mysterious words, if I can call it so. Even the most precise of definitions fails to capture its true meaning for it isolates the word, a word that cannot be understood unless interpreted in context. Somebody does not talk but sheds one tear. No noise guaranteed. Someone does not talk but has signs of suffering all over. Is silence an accurate description? Similaraly: Silence in a still environment, where there is no precise source of sound, yet we feel there is too much noise, too many things going on? What is the true power of silence, and bottom line, is silence as impotent as we tend to believe?

I think that the gravity we have accorded to speech is to a great extent responsible for our attitude towards silence. And indeed we have accorded much negative significance to silence. This is because speech is associated communication.

A founding element of human civilization, speech has prevailed in virtually all cultures and distinguishes humans from other species. Because silence is deprived of sounds, it is viewed as the opposite of speech. Rightly? Perhaps. But need silence imply lack of communication too? Why has silence acquired a negative, almost anti-life connotation? Speech and noise are potent because they have several positive features that have been endorsed and further developped by individuals. First comes our bombardment of noises and speech. Noise and talking everywhere. Then it is the efficiency that speech brings: people not only communicate, but they communicate easily and quickly and rely on this "skill" for much of their interpersonal interactions. Finally, speech is one very potent way to express oneself and to release inner pressure (of whatever form).

Concepts such a muteness or stilness, both associated with silence, are not easily defined in societies plenty of action. We do not live in an isolated system such as the ones we artificially create in the labs. Interaction (Communication etc) is a constant element and occurs whether we perceive it or not. It may occur at different levels and different intensities. We may perceive it and we may not.

In the way we have defined silence in our culture, I cannot deny its existence. Of course when somebody does not talk, he remains silent. For whatever reason. But I wish to keep this definition to a bare minimum, for I reject any association between silence and lack of communication or lack of life. There are ways to communicate for all, though I do recognize that they may not be equally efficient. I condemn forced silence, this goes without a say. Yet I believe that in order to better comprehend the silenced individuals, whether they are victims or not, we have to first to comprehend silence.

One of my favorite songs, the famous "Sound of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel. Here the first and the last stanza:

Hello darkness, my old friend,
Ive come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon God they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning,
In the words that it was forming.
And the signs said, the words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls.
And whisperd in the sounds of silence.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Can you not see that I see (am watching) the sea?

For many people sight -the ability to see- is the most important of all senses. And this is not strange considering that we perceive and experience life to a great extent with our eyes, with our sight. Of course all of our senses are important and useful, but can one envisage his present life without sight? For this reason, I admire extremely all the visually impaired individuals, who despite the little assistance we provide them, manage to live a life of dignity.

Often I wonder how inconsiderate it is of us, not to strive to help the quality of life of such individuals, particularly since we acknowledge the benefits of sight in the quality of our own lives daily: first and foremost sight renders our daily lives easier. Simple and straightforward. Then it is all the visual experiences, memories and images that we have as a result of some special moments- they have ben imprinted in our souls largely as a result of our sight. Finally there all those less memorable, yet significant experiences, that even if we cannot trace them they are still in us, with us. I am referring to such things as a glimpse of something 'different', our exposure to something 'novel', 'never seen before'. Many of such experiences have too become part of us through sight. Sight is by no means the only sense we experience life, but because it is one of the most powerful it deserves our attention I believe.

I claim no background in psychology, yet I firmly believe that such less memorable, unimportant experiences have a profound effect on people as they induce growth and development. Being exposed to a diverse array of experiences and stimuli, even unconsciously, enhances our scope of reference, the understanding of ourselves and of life more generally. Also, many of such experiences have the potential to become active if paired up with an appropriate stimulus in the future. So, when kids appear not to pay attention when you are pointing to this magnificent work of art, relax, they are still learning and becoming smarter.


Thw following is a quote from "Toute la beauté du monde", a french novel by author Marc Esposito, one which clearly demonstrates the impact of vision:

"J' étais debordé, elle iradiait de désir, j'étais suffoqué d'émotion, d'amour et d'excitation, j'ai interrompu le baiser, pour la regarder encore, et graver dans ma memoire le visage, le regard, le sourire qu'elle avait à cet instant précis, où nos vies basculaient" (318)

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