We live in a noisy world, where we are bombarded by radio, TV, personal music devices, workplace sounds and the relentless and unforgiving sounds of urban living. We could even classify some of our own inter personal communications as a form of noise, a distraction from what is real.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of only noticing what is ‘vocalized’, that which demands our attention. But the unspoken, the silences in our lives are full of meaning and relevance. We owe it to ourselves to explore these ‘silences’. This may require some effort precisely because silences don’t ‘speak’ directly to us. This exploration will give us personal insights, shedding light on issues we are avoiding, and maybe help us acknowledge blessings that we have tended to take for granted.
So what might these silences be?
The following are some examples :
Silence in intimate relationships. Such silence can indicate closeness, warmth, and a level of mutual understanding that needs no words – a great gift to be appreciated. On the other hand it can be a pointer to an emerging gulf, a distancing, a growing apart which needs to be addressed before it is too late to save the relationship, or some crisis point emerges. Think twice before ‘running away’ from facing up to uncomfortable situations in your intimate relationships.
Buried hurt in any relationship is a form of silence that can eat away at the fabric of the relationship and if unresolved will carry forward into other relationships. There can also be long term consequences for physical and mental health if old wounds are allowed to fester unacknowledged.
It is sad how often simple misunderstandings lead to the breakdown of relationships. Too often rather than ‘break the silence’ and seek clarification we assume the role of mind reader. Just think of the number of times that you have found an assumption you had to be incorrect. If it is important to know what someone is thinking, don’t assume – ask.
Silence in families. There can be silence within families in the form of ‘rules’, often unspoken, which put certain subjects or events ‘off limits’ for discussion. This results in a legacy of unresolved issues which will transfer to the next generation, unless the cycle is broken through therapy etc.
Silence which is charged with emotion. We have all been in situations where the energy of some unexpressed emotion or some unmentionable event hangs in the air, the so called ‘elephant in the room’. A great sense of release and relief is felt by everybody if some formula can be found to diffuse such situations. Unless the environment is unsafe, saying it as it is, is often the best course.
There is the silence of those who literally ‘suffer in silence’, for example, following the loss of loved ones through death or distance, or otherwise feel isolated. So often we leave it to someone else to reach out to those who might need support at such times.
The silence of cowardice, where the courage to say what needs to be said fails us e.g. to stand up to a bully or to speak in support of someone who is vulnerable. At a societal level there is the moral cowardice of the so called ‘silent majority’ who stand by as the weak and vulnerably are oppressed. Are you part of some silent majority? Related to this is the silence of those who are rejected and excluded. Is there someone you should ‘include’ who is feeling excluded?
Silent personalities. Some are by nature or because of their life experience more silent than others. It can be easy to ignore someone who sits quietly in the background. The quiet ones may need encouragement to speak but their contribution may be at least as valuable as others to whom talking comes easier.
We are silent ourselves sometimes in order to create space for listening. An ability to be silent and present for others, and to listen to what is being said (in words and between the lines), is essential if we are to have empathy with others and meaningful relationships.This kind of silence is to be encouraged!
So reflect on the silences in your life, what they mean, and whether you need to act in relation to them.