Before I begin my post, I would like to take a moment to mention the loss of two great men during the previous week. The world is a less compassionate place with the loss of Mike Curtis and Bob Skinner. Your friends and family will never forget the impact you’ve had on all of us. You will be missed.
“We sit silently and watch the world around us. This has taken a lifetime to learn. It seems only the old are able to sit next to one another and not say anything and still feel content. The young, brash and impatient, must always break the silence. It is a waste, for silence is pure. Silence is holy. It draws people together because only those who are comfortable with each other can sit without speaking. This is the great paradox.” –Nicholas Sparks
Let me be the first to admit my disappointment with starting this entry with a quote from Nicholas Sparks. With that being said, the topic I would like to explore today is silence, as you may have guessed from the above quote. This idea came to me when I visiting the church I grew up in this previous weekend. During the sermon, the pastor made mention of “The Sound of Silence”, a recording made by a church in East Sussex. As the link explains, a church in East Sussex decided to record a 30-minute CD of their building. No people, no music, no sound. I wont sit here and try to defend the normalcy of this act, but one thing did stick out to me as I read about this act and the reaction to it; we are absolutely terrified of silence.
Somewhere along the lines, it appears that silence has turned into a bad thing. I’m sure all of us could think of several encounters with another individual that ended in the dreaded ‘awkward silence’. That awkward moment in conversation where things are flowing and feels natural and then out of nowhere, BAM! Silence. When there is silence in communication we feel distressed, fearful, or rejected. I dare say we feel these things due to the unknown. We question, “What is the other person thinking of me right now?” “Hell, if I can’t even carry this conversation, they must think I’m pretty boring”. If you’re interested in reading about common thoughts on why silence can be awkward or difficult for us, I would recommend checking this website out. Because of these fears and thoughts, we’ve created small talk.
Small talk is defined as an informal type of discourse that does not cover any functional topics of conversation or any transactions that need to be addressed. We have ventured into feeling more comfortable talking about meaningless topics instead of simply being present with the person we are with. In fact, I feel that the movie “Pulp Fiction” sums up the exact point I’m trying to make in the following quote:
Mia: Don’t you hate that?
Vincent: Hate what?
Mia: Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about bullshit? In order to be comfortable?
Vincent: I don’t know. That’s a good question.
Mia: That’s when you know you found somebody really special, when you can just shut the fuck up for a minute, and comfortably share silence.
This exchange not only explains the pain and anguish of small talk, but it also shines light on the beauty and importance of silence. I understand that I likely have a different view on silence because of my job as a counselor. In my profession, silence can offer some of the most important moments of insight and growth. It is through silence we are able to be with our thoughts. It is through silence we are able to reflect on our emotions and reactions. It is through silence we are able to be real with ourselves.
As “Pulp Fiction” reminds us, “You know you found someone special when you can just shut the fuck up for a minute, and comfortably share silence.” When I take time to look at some of the most important people in my life, I can easily recall moments of silence with them. Those moments where words would only cheapen the experience. Words would only diminish the beauty of what was happening. Words would only distract us from the level of intimacy and appreciation that is right in front of us.
I know that this is something that took me a while to learn. In the past I would always try to find the perfect thing to say in every situation. I wanted to be that person who could provide someone with a phrase or quote that would blow him or her away. I wanted to be that endless source of wealth that knew what to do every time someone came to me. But recently I discovered that I can’t be this person. Sometimes instead of trying to fix everything with a quoted band-aid, what we need is someone to simply be there with us exactly where we are. Early in my graduate school career, I had a professor sit across a table from me and tell me, “Never underestimate the power of presence”. Little did I know at that moment how much weight and truth this sentence would carry for me. By being present with someone and giving them the chance to embrace silence, we can take our relationships to a new level of intimacy. To me, this is a beautiful reminder that we don’t have to always have the answer, but instead we just have to be available.