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.


dimitris said...

unfortunately nowadays one has to talk a lot in order to promote themselves one way or the other, even if they are really saying nothing. in which case i would for sure prefer them to be silent.

there's so many occasions in everyday life that i would appreciate silence/muteness or anything like it, from individuals who just have to keep talking when there's no need for it. whether they are just being irritating in doing this, or impractical in wasting everybody else's time.

i too believe in broad and more specific dimensions that silence is highly undervalued in our days. think about the stereotype of a person who doesn't talk much ("they don't express themselves, they don't have an opinion, they are ignorant, they lack self confidence etc etc").

They might just be preparing their next move though, listening to the "sound of silence" or just "enjoying the silence" as depeche mode sang it.

Pixie said...

Silence can say sometimes a lot more that actual words.It can be a form of communicating and for sure sometimes silence can have a greater impact than actual words.
The only thing is that people are uncomfortable with silence and they have the urge to fill the void.Maybe they are uncomfortable with themselves.

Elpidia García said...

To me, the worst kind of silence is the one that gives consent to unjustice. Like the silence many nations keep before the war and its terrible consequences.

Ergotelina said...

Has silence mystic messages for us?


Kalo kalokeri!...

Nelke said...

Hi =)

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