Silence #

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. “

Language communicates by nuance or the power of suggestion so that words are not always essential or that reliable. Especially in visual media, language becomes secondary. A pregnant pause can often be more effective than slick, glib, smarmy spiels or garrulous prattling.

Ellipsis and fragmented sentences can often convey more meaning than grammatically formed sentences. Emily Dickinson pares her language down to a minimum allowing our imaginations to engage.

Actors appreciate silence more than anyone. Rachel Griffiths comments: “It’s not the applause but the 30 seconds of silence before. The quality of silence before the applause is the most magical gift. It’s like it’s something suspended, like a mirage before it fades”. Peter Craven - the Australian

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.

Shakespeare recognises the need for silence at times. Cordelia cannot vow devoted unqualified and boundless love for her father but does declare a duteous love: “Obey you, love you, and most honour you” I.i. 100.

Much has been written regarding Cordelia’s refusal to play the game; was it naivety? pride? or simply a rebuff to her sisters indicating her disdain of their false flattery as her declamations of love would sound hollow and trite. Perhaps she was following the biblical saying: “The heart of fools is in their mouths, but the mouth of the wise is in their heart”. Albany ends the play with the exhortation to “Speak what you feel; not what you ought to say.”

Hamlet ends with: “and the rest is silence”.

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.

Especially when we are troubled or under stress we often want to shout out; “Why doesn’t everyone JUST SHUT THE F**K UP! Mothers coping with the chaos of child rearing just love to retreat to silence.

Saying on Silence: #

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

‘To be resolute and firm, simple and slow in speech, is to approach true goodness.’ Confucius (Analect 13.27 [17]).

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James: 1, 19:*

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

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 heartBiblical 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”.

And the rest is silence Hamlet Shakespesre

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

“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, most recently, 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

Sometimes society chooses not to hear the voices of the silenced. 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.

“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” Arundhati Roy

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.