Learning to Listen to Silence

Check our Latest products!

It has been said that “a true friend is someone with whom you can sit in complete silence, without a hint of embarrassment or the need to fill the space.” I don’t know how true that is, because when I meet my friends we have things to chat about and events to share and laugh/cry/commiserate with one another. I think about sitting with my friends and not speaking, but in that situation we might be watching a film, a television show or something at the theatre. No silence there. So can I think of any situation where I might be with a friend enjoying the silence? Yes I can – I can take a handful of people and imagine sitting outside enjoying the sunshine and the peace and quiet while reading a book. Or perhaps enjoying a sundowner on the Zambezi River, waiting for the fishermen to return. The sounds of nature wouldn’t last long, because the boats with their motors would soon be buzzing up the river, shattering the evening tranquility.

The same article spoke of a composer bemoaning the problems orchestras encounter when playing one of her pieces of music. There’s a 25 second period of silence written into the piece meant to create and build tension, but musicians claim it doesn’t create that effect. They say audiences don’t understand the silence, and would be annoyed at such a long pause. Is 25 seconds a long time? No, but in our ever noisy world it is almost an eternity. As noise pollutes our world more and more every day it is claimed society is becoming more averse to trying to deal with silence. Because silence is becoming so rare subconsciously we apparently have begun to fear it, hence the need to fill the void with some kind of noise, usually in the form of words.

Silence has indeed become more elusive. Perhaps the best evidence of this is the 24 hour news channels, who will run the same story over and over again and from many different angles simply to fill a gap caused by no news. What happened to the old adage “no news is good news”? If a politician finds himself at a loss for words his career will probably never take off. If he says nothing then he looks like an idiot, and then there’s always the chance he says The Wrong Thing. People may laugh at him and not vote for the idiot, but the one who says The Wrong Thing may as well hand in his resignation with immediate effect because he won’t be going anywhere. Surely a case for “remaining silent and appearing a fool instead of opening the mouth and removing all doubt”?

This isn’t just restricted to politicians – have you ever said something and the instant you finish the sentence realise you have said completely the wrong thing? I have, and it’s uncomfortable – that’s the easiest and most polite way to describe it. Saying the wrong thing and then trying to explain yourself simply makes that hole you’ve dug very very deep and very very hard to escape from. Sometimes you wish the hole would just close up and cover you forever…

The following verse from Simon and Garfunkel’s classic song “Sounds of Silence” is another sobering reminder for me of how noise is penetrating our lives, and how we might not even realise it:

“Fools”, said I, “You do not know

Silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you

Take my arms that I might reach you”

But my words, like silent raindrops fell

And echoed in the wells of silence

I have developed the habit of turning off the television after my husband leaves for work, and I leave it off all day. There’s no background noise, no adverts, no repetitive news. If I want a distraction I’ll play some music. When I’m writing I want that silence. It’s a good companion.


Leave a Reply