Silence #

Language communicates by nuance or the power of suggestion so that words are not always reliable.  A pregnant pause can often be more effective than slick, glib, smarmy spiels or garrulous prattling. Silence can transcend language.  Ellipsis and fragmented sentences can often convey more meaning than words.  Emily Dickinson pares her language down to a minimum allowing our imaginations to engage.

Relying on my command of the language, I remained silent.

*“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.”  *Leonardo da Vinci

Words can mean that that I want to make you into a friend.  Silence can mean that I already accept you being one.

The heart of fools is in their mouths, but the mouth of the wise is in their heart”  Biblical exhortation

The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.* * Mark Twain*

*“It is better to remain silent and let people think you are stupid; then to open your mouth and remove all doubt”,    *Mark Twain

* “Speech is silvern; silence is golden”*.  

When you talk you sow, when you keep your peace, you reap

*The elegance of silence  * - Japanese saying

Dramatists often use silence to heighten tension or suspense; the trick is to know how long to prolong it without losing the audience.

In Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, critics have commented that “Silence pours into the play like water into a sinking ship”.  In some productions the actors remain frozen in their latest adopted pose.  

Silence is threatening because of its association with death – anonymity, irrelevance, debility.  We cannot cope with too much silence. We feel the need to fill the void – we are afraid of the silence of the universe.


It is always fascinating to look at silences – they often tell us more than the loudest shouts – particularly when it come to the media where what gets reported is often less interesting than what doesn’t.  “

*“That silence is more profound after noise still wants the confirmation of science” *      Virginia Woolf in Orlando.

Whereas silence is for other animals a natural state of rest, for humans silence can be an escape from inner commotion.”                    John Gray

***The Right to Speak ***by the legendary voice coach Patsy Rodenburg contains a passage on quietness and silence.

“Linked with the denial of grief,” she wrote, " the ’lump in the throat’ is the habit of pushing down the voice. In order to block pain and contain it the voice feels literally clumped in the throat like a mass which we neither swallow nor expel. Expression is obstructed."

Robert Frost’s asserts that,

“A poem begins with a lump in the throat, a home-sickness or a love-sickness. It is a reaching-out towards expression; an effort to find fulfilment.”

There can be a poetry in our quietness; all of us mumblers, soft-speakers, low-talkers are after all just reaching out, we are lifting up our voices as high, and as beautifully as we are able. “O, but Everyone/ Was a bird;” wrote Sassoon, *“and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.”  *Laura Barton,

Jeffrey Smart: Stillness and Enchantment

On the ABC Talking Heads in 2009, Smart mentioned “stillness”: “And then [TS Eliot] talks about ‘the stillness of a work of art’. And that’s so crucial. And if you find that in a work of art, like Cezanne, it’s that perfect stillness.


Deepak Chopra, a physician, is the author of “Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny and the American Dream” and “God: A Story of Revelation.”

Both prayer and meditation are useful, with observable physiological effects. Even without God, silence may be the womb from which intelligence and creativity emerge. Silence is an ambiguous issue in this area. For a believer, no audible answer to prayer is required; God is still listening, even though the conversation has silence at the other end. Meditation turns silence into something valuable on its own. Our brains change with every thought, because thoughts form a feedback loop that every cell eavesdrops on. In the tradition of meditation, silence also forms a feedback loop. A wordless voice says, “Here is peace.” Cells can eavesdrop on that message, too, and when they do, pathways in the brain are changed just as surely as when we respond to thoughts, sensations and emotions.

Even without God, silence may be the womb from which intelligence and creativity emerge.

In the meditation tradition, this silence is God.


There are times of course when one must speak out:

*“A voice is a human gift, it should be cherished and used..  Powerlessness and silence go together”                                                  *Margaret Atwood

A dismissive attitude, to bear it in silence is a stance that allows bullies to keep haranguing, misogynists to keep denigrating, priests to keep sexually abusing or judges to keep judging arbitrarily.

The easy way is silence; the only way to engineer change is to use your voice – to help others and to help yourself.   

A Quaker aphorism: “Speak truth to Power”.

 *“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept”. * Lt. –General David Morrison

There’s a certain standard and respect that needs to re-engage. Otherwise we do end up with a move towards a degrading of a very important part of democracy.


Australians are renowned for laconic temperaments, especially fishermen.

Jack and Dave spend most Saturdays on a boat fishing.  One day, twenty minutes into the day, Jack speaks: “I think I may have to get a divorce”.

Half an hour later Dave inquires: * “why would you do that?”*

Twenty minutes later Jack says, “She hasn’t spoken to me for a week!”

Half an hour later, Dave advises, “If I were you, I wouldn’t do that.  A good woman like that is hard to find”.