Barbara Fish Counselling Services ... helping your life work

Sound(s) of Silence

Helping Your Life Work

Volume 8, Issue 2

February, 2012

When the academy awards nominations were announced last month, it was interesting to note that three of the nominees played silent roles. Without the benefit of speech or sound or intonation of voice, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, the silent movie stars in The Artist, and Max Von Sydow, the selective mute in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, gave powerful performances, conveying a wealth of information, feelings and ideas through their movements, facial expressions, and physical presences.

I wondered whether it was simply coincidence that three silent roles were so honoured this year and whether the choice of highlighting silent characters was purposeful. Were the writers and directors trying to tell us something through their use of silence? Were they asking us to pay better attention to the subtleties and nuances of what is being communicated to us through the gestures and looks of another? In an age where so much of our communication is processed through technology, are we losing our ability to notice the meaning behind the words that are expressed? When we are used to receiving answers to our questions and results to our efforts almost instantaneously on the Internet, are we losing patience when we need to wait for an answer from our fellow humans? In our rush to make our point or win the battle, do we forget how to listen to our families, friends and co-workers?

There is much meaning and power in the act of being silent. Silence can be ‘golden,’ for example, when someone simply sits and listens to another, without interruption, judgment, planning rebuttals or saying, “I told you so.” Observing a moment of silence is a powerful way way to recognize loss and share an expression of sadness with others. Being silent can also be a wonderful way to retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and the daily assault on our senses of horns, sirens, and nonstop use of cellphones. And when the noise and chatter comes from within us, finding ways to escape that noise through yoga, meditation and mindfulness, can be another wonderful use of silence.

But silence can also be a cruel tormentor. Being on the receiving end of the ‘silent treatment’ can be frustrating, to say the least, if not hurtful. Often the recipient is unaware of what he or she has done to deserve such treatment and will often jump through hoops to be readmitted into someone else’s good graces. So uncomfortable is the feeling, they may do whatever they can to avoid this from happening again. When taken to extremes, it can be quite damaging to an individual’s psyche. Some societies, for example, choose to punish wrongdoers by refusing to speak to them and treating them as invisible, causing them more harm than any prison sentence could. Being friendless, ignored and shunned, what could be worse?

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and for many of us, we may have made an extra special effort to show love and caring for our partner or family member through acts of kindness, gifts and celebrations. But in our normal, everyday interaction with our loved ones, do we usually sit patiently and silently to allow our children/parents to speak uninterrupted, without criticism or anger? Do we give each other space and silence when they or we need some in our lives? Can we be silent enough to recognize the signs of hurt, or sadness, or fear that others may be showing? Or do we withdraw and choose silence as a weapon against someone who we feel has hurt us in some way?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
“Helping Your Life Work”

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