By Kevin Sheehan, Special Columnist
Regardless of weekly content, this column is designed to help others expand their way of thinking and promote creativity, empathy, and thought in general.
Silence can be uncomfortable. Whether people you are expecting to hear speak stay quiet, or perhaps you are alone in silence, our minds can run rampant with every word we can imagine being the next to pierce our ears. Silence can mean a plethora of different meanings, all based on the context and user of it.
It can pass on the action of thought, trying to decipher a solution to a current problem at hand. It can convey anger, as a withholding of talking as punishment for angering someone. It can pass as exhaustion, simply too tired to formulate conversation. However, it can also pass as surrender, an unwillingness to try to communicate and resolve any issues.
As I mentioned a few months ago, speech can affect others and the ability to encourage and discourage them. On the opposite end of the spectrum, silence also can do that. When a child looks to their father for commendation and receives only silence, the child may grow up to live looking for any recognition at all, good or bad. When a person mistreats someone who sits in silence, the abuser continues their actions knowing that any objections have been surrendered only to silence. When a struggling person asks their spouse if the marriage is worth saving and receives only the response of silence, more is said than can ever be put into words.
However, there are questions that do not ever need to be answered. There are thoughts that remain just that: thoughts. People may think that silence means a withholding or an omission, but often forget that there is a reason why that is so. When women ask, “Does this make me look fat?”, the silence (and the subsequent, “I’m sorry honey, I couldn’t hear you over the vacuum”) is loud.
I say that in complete jest, but if you have a friend who suffers with chronic depression offer up a rhetorical question such as “What’s wrong with me?”, that time is not the time to list off their tendencies to procrastinate or their lack of ambition. Situations such as this, among others, is why I say not every question needs an answer.
Sometimes silence can simply be a procrastination, or a stalling device, itself. Sitting outside looking at the stars and staying quiet with someone you love is just an appreciation of the moment, and a desire for it to be perfect, even for just a second longer. The gaze as you look into someone’s eyes before you engage in a kiss need not be ruined with words. The moment after a child is born and the mother and father look at the child, knowing this is the happiest they will ever be, and nothing else can be added to make that moment more perfect, so silence is suitable.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, when you find out someone is getting divorced, or a tragic moment happens in someone’s life. Perhaps someone loses a family member to death, or even their own child. There is nothing in that moment you can possibly say to make the pain less, or even as a distraction. With full appreciation in my heart for anyone who is resilient enough to stand by their friends as tragedy unfolds, I say this: Nothing you can say at that moment will help. Just wait, and listen to know how to help.
Silence may just be a gathering of thought, choosing the words that you will employ. There is no shame in speaking what you mean slowly, but there is shame in spewing heartless words without control. The tongue can cause wounds that it cannot heal, and sometimes all the preventative measure would have been just a few moments of silence. Silence may mean the desire to understand a situation before divulging your opinion. This makes me appreciate one of my favorite quotes from Abraham Lincoln: “Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.”
There is nothing louder than silence. It is an expectation of sound that has fallen short, or it can be the absence of chaos that leads to tranquility. Silence is a vital communication tool. When you take the time to shut your mouth and open your eyes, you may learn your life is a lot different than you thought.