“Speech silvern but silence golden” I had no use for that phrase all through my life. I liked to talk and I loved to listen. I always thought that speaking is an amazing talent that we have and using it helps us interact effectively. Ergo, I loved to talk and liked people who talked a lot.
But something changes when I moved to the US for graduate school. There was a huge change. Suddenly I started wanting to hang around people who spoke less and measured their words. They were more interesting. I started to watch what I said. I mean this not in a weird autocratic way which precludes unpopular opinions. I mean it in the context of superfluous blabbering, and how life is more fulfilling without it.
Less speaking means more time for thinking. At least that’s what I think.
As I was pondering this, another thing occurred to me. I started to think about silence in itself, and its properties. The uses of silence are many and cover various emotions. Studies show that the average man takes at least a half hour to understand that his silent significant other is angry with him. Until then, he considers the silent time as a bonus. He actually thinks he is getting some quiet time. After a half hour, it dawns on him that he was being punished while his girlfriend decides that he is sleeping on the couch that night. Silence can mean so many other things.
I have very few friends. The really good friends for me are those with whom I can share long silent periods where each one of us is doing our own work, and we are in peaceful company. The silence there is palpably soothing, and nobody wants to talk at that time. Silence at other times can be used to intimidate. In a stress interview, strict questions are mixed with silent stares to check the mental toughness of the interviewee. There, each moment of that silence can be brutal.
When I did something wrong, I would be afraid of the silent questioning that I got from my father. It was a quiet disappointment which hurt more than a thousand scoldings from my mother. I felt exposed of all my guile and completely surrendered to the silence. Later, of course, as with most things, I got immune to it.
I have learnt to respect silence for its power, tenderness, peace, turmoil and above all, the sheer sound of silence. (A quiet tribute to Simon & Garfunkel)