Reference: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
Basics. Definitions are useful. But what is silence, really?
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
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.