Inspiring Conversations

Articulate Silences


  • SumoMe

What is silence and why is it an art? Penny K meditates.

By Penny K

Silence is the universal refuge, the sequel to all dull discourses and all foolish acts, a balm to our every chagrin, as welcome after satiety as after disappointment.  – Henry David Thoreau

What is silence but an absence of sound? If silence marks absence where’s the art in what’s not there?

Silence is an art because knowing how to use it and at what point to use it requires if not aptitude, practice and some skill.

And because silence is something that’s lacking thanks to modern day living where we are sound permeates our lives, whether accidentally from the cars on the road or purposely from the music on our iPods, we mistake silence for a lack of understanding.

Mahatma Gandhi regularly abstained from speaking believing silence brought him inner peace. Silence reflects a depth of understanding and you will find a well-timed silence could not come in handier. Here are ways you can use silence to your advantage.

Silence as speaking

Silence can be a way of making a statement. We’ve heard of the phrase “silence means consent” – well yes, silence can mean anything as long as you know how to tweak the silence according to the message you wish to convey.

Making use of body language to accompany the silence can do this: flinch to express discomfort or smile in approval.

Silence is a mode of communication, a type of passive assertiveness which can reflect well on a person. The ability to remain quiet reflects a sense of self-control and discipline of not indulging in mindless conversation that can be draining. Silence shows you’re one who thinks before speaking.

Silence as listening

When avant-garde composer John Cage created 4’33”, an experimental musical work composed of four and half minutes of silence, few got it.

The highly controversial nature of his work baffled the audience at the premier so Cage defended his work of art saying, “What they thought was silence, because they didn’t know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds. You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third the people made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.”

By remaining silent, you find yourself listening more. Listening is not a passive act; you can lead a negotiation the way you want by simply listening well. By being a good listener, you gain the trust of others and when people are encouraged to talk they tend to share more about who they are, what they do, their dreams and aspirations. Truly listening makes others feel important, and they are inclined to share more information, and you in turn learn more.

Silence as defence

In law, applicable only to certain countries, the right to silence is a form of legal protection enjoyed by people undergoing police interrogation or trial.

James Joyce famously wrote in Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, “I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can, and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use . . . silence, exile, and cunning.”

Speaking makes a statement, not speaking says something too.

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