Thursday, February 23, 2012

Deafening silence

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Sorry guys, I’m long overdue for a new post. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. Busy with work and school and recovering from the flu. I’ve got a few deeper, more political topics I want to write about, but they will have to wait until the weekend.
For now, I’ll tackle a more light-hearted philosophical quote. One of my favorite quotes is; “If you don’t understand my silence, you will never understand my words”.  Admittedly, I have absolutely no idea where this quote originated and all of my attempts to uncover the etymology of this expression have turned up nothing.
What is interesting is the huge amount of people who simply do not understand this expression. Some of the websites I came across had comments like; “flawed logic is flawed”, “this is hands down one of the dumbest sayings I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading”, and “this is retarded”. Obviously, these people aren’t capable of grasping the meaning of this expression and, ironically, it is people like this that the quote is most applicable to.
Some of the websites had answers that were partially true. Many of the websites understood one facet of this expression; it is often associated with anger. However, anger in and of itself is not the only explanation or use where this quote applies.
Yahoo! Answers featured a response that reads thus:
“Here's an example. When I am upset at someone for something that I believe they have done that has wronged me, I may give that person the silent treatment. If that person doesn't pick up    on these non-verbal cues, and he/she has no idea why I would be upset about what he/she did      because his/her ethical/moral perspectives are different than mine because we have two    different sets formed from two different sets of life experiences-- well then, that person will not                 understand why I am upset even if I tell him/her why I am upset using words.”
This poster definitely hit on part of the situation. However, the essence of this quote is more than just about being angry. It’s about having a communicative disconnect so deep that it is without measure and words, no matter how intelligent or eloquent, will never be able to bridge that gap.
Another site, Bookmunch, had a review about some completely unrelated book, but the top of the article was a paraphrase of this quote which read “If you can’t understand it without an explanation, then you can’t understand it with an explanation.  This too, is only part of it. There are many topics that I can think of that I do not understand without an explanation, but with an explanation everything becomes clear. After all, that is the entire model of our education system. However, if you substitute “it” with “my behavior” , “my thoughts”, or “my feelings”, then it takes on a different meaning altogether and one that is far closer to the point.
I also came across another website, a blog called e-stranged, about families who are estranged from one another. This post makes many interesting statements that are also in line with this as well. For example, in the image on the wall is written “silence is speech”. This, I think, more than any of the other explanations is closer to the truth of the matter. Silence is also speech. If you don’t understand my non-verbal speech, you won’t understand my verbal speech.
There are a few other paraphrases of this quote as well. One of them reads “if you don’t understand my silence, then you don’t deserve my words”. This one I’m not so sure that I necessarily agree with, although I do understand the point that they are making. I think that there may be quite a few exceptions to the above quote. Also, my words are mine to give to whom I will. I may decide that someone is worthy of them, even if they don’t understand my silence. Failure to comprehend the meaning of my non-verbal speech is not an automatically disqualifying condition of my verbal speech.
The e-stranged blog also features a quote by Leonard Peltier; “Silence, they say, is the voice of complicity. But silence is impossible. Silence screams. Silence is a message, just as doing nothing is an act.” This too is very appropriate.
I often use silence in many facets of my life. Yes, the most obvious is when I am angry with someone. If the anger is fresh I often get very quiet until I’ve had a chance to reflect upon my thoughts and feelings because I don’t want to say something that I don’t mean and that I’ll regret and have the message I’m conveying be lost in the tone with which I am saying it (see Art of Arguing). If the anger is older it could just be that I have nothing to say because I’m too hurt or in disbelief about what happened.
Sometimes, as I just alluded, I am silent when I’m in a state of shock. “Congratulations, your son’s mother is pregnant and the father is a registered sex offender!” What do you say to something like that? Do you speak words that are hollow fillers of thoughts that you haven’t even fully formed yet? Or do you remain silent and reflect on this information.
Sometimes I am silent because I have nothing to say. As one poster put it, the silence can sometimes mean that you are comfortable enough with a person that you don’t feel as though you have to say something every minute of the day. Sometimes silence is a comfortable silence.
And yet, other times silence is a tool. Sometimes the silence says “I know. I know your secrets. I know that every word coming out of your mouth right now is a lie, but I’m not going to call you out on it simply to have you lie more and tell me that I’m wrong when I know the truth. It’s easier to let you believe that you’re getting away with these lies for now than it is to start a fight every time this comes up.”
And still other times it is a shield; like when you meet new people for the first time. Do you just run into a party full of strange people that you don’t know “guns blazing” spouting off to every person that you see? Or do you sit quietly and observe the room and try to ascertain who the fool is, and who is the intellect? When you are the new person on the job it’s sometimes disrespectful to be offering up all kinds of solutions when you don’t even know the situation.  It’s entirely plausible that someone already thought of that. It’s possible that someone equally intelligent as you are has shown them this already and there’s a reason that they aren’t using it. To avoid coming across as arrogant, you can sit quietly until you make that determination.
Silence can also be a conveyance of emotions; I’m sad, I’m hurt, I’m lonely, I don’t feel well. When people are sick or in pain they don’t want to talk much (especially if their throat is what hurts). If they are depressed they might not feel like talking about it.
Far too often the deeper statement of what we mean is lost within the more superficial context of what we say. This is a far too common problem with oral communication that leads to fights and arguments, and one that is intensified when trying to ascertain meaning through electronic communication like text messages. People have a tendency to latch onto specific words and phrases, which really might not mean much in the overall context of the message, and inject their own meaning upon them. Case in point, look at Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Princess Leia says “Why you stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking, nerf-herder!” Han Solo’s only response is “Who’s scruffy looking?” Clearly, the meaning of Leia’s message is lost on Han.
Granted, those of you who know me know that I am a self-professed logophile (lover of words) and I obviously feel that verbal and communication plays a huge part in understanding one another. However, that being said I also believe that a lot of us need to spend far less time speaking and jumping to conclusions and more time listening and understanding.
The e-stranged blog has some more apt feedback. Admittedly, their take on the quote is rather the opposite viewpoint of mine, however, that’s not to say that aren’t some things that we can agree on. For example, they state that “silence is not a simple statement. It is a highly complex form of communication.” Quite so.
They believe that no one should have to interpret the silence. And to that point, I agree also. However, until they ready to actually listen to my words, it’s not worth wasting my breath on. This other blog is of the opinion that you should speak simply because you are worth speaking about. And I don’t disagree with that. However, you must consider that communication is a two –way street. Sometimes the person with whom you are conversing is emotionally or intellectually incapable of comprehending what you say. How long will you continue talking before you give up? Sometimes the person to whom you are speaking is so self-centered and opinionated that whatever you say is automatically wrong, simply because you said it. In cases like that my silence may mean “I’m not even going to engage in your antics because I have better, more productive things to do with my time”. That’s certainly no slight to myself, in fact, I could argue the opposite; I’m smart enough to know that this conversation would be futile.
Sometimes, you can communicate more with silence than you can with words. Sometimes, a simple look can speak volumes in seconds where words would take minutes and not accomplish the same task. Silence is often misunderstood, and because of that we often misconstrue all silence to mean that the other person is angry or upset, even if that’s not the case. Instead of assuming that they are mad, try approaching the situation with an open mind and inquiring about their silence, then you will be in a better state of mind to hear what they are trying to say.


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These blogs represent my thoughts, ideas and opinions. They may be different from yours. You may not agree with them. While I do enjoy a good, polite debate on a topic (where points are countered with other points based on logic, reason and fact), I do not enjoy an argument (where you tell me that I am wrong simply because you disagree and cannot offer any reasons to support your position). I am very respectful of others, and I expect everyone on here to be respectful in return, not only to me, but to each other as well. Disrespectful posts will be deleted automatically. Feel free to share your ideas, but keep it civil, please.