Learning to Shut the F**k Up
Why silence is often the best response.
You start a conversation you can’t even finish it
You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed
Say something once, why say it again?
Talking Heads — Psycho Killer
Just want to vent here
There are a couple of things that really get to me in terms of human conversation. Apart from the banality of some of it, many people seem to feel that the opening gambit of a potentially interesting conversation is the signal to let loose with their own experiences and personal histories.
Someone mentions a current news story and immediately someone else makes a somewhat spurious connection to a piece of personal trivia that brings attention to them, their angst and their shit.
The internet seems to have made experts of everyone. Informed opinions abound. However, just how informed are those informed opinions?
Collecting snippets or headlines based on scientific research does not a scientist make. Yet, in conversations, there will be those who “know” because they read it “somewhere” and those who really know because they have some hard-earned expertise.
It’s, often easy to spot the difference. Those who know talk, those with expertise question!
Uncertainty Talks, Knowledge Speaks, Wisdom Listens — Emrys y Dewin
Talking To, Talking At, Talking With
What about those who really cannot enter into a conversation, which is the art of talking with someone else?
They often end up simply talking to or talking at others without recognising the growing disinterest and non-engagement of the person they are communicating with.
I would imagine that everyone reading this has felt the pulse of the Psycho Killer tension expressed in the Talking Heads lyric above.
Not everyone wants to hear your opinion!
Opinions are like ass-holes, everybody has one
Harry Callaghan (Clint Eastwood) Dirty Harry
Whilst in a conversation I may invite your opinion on a particular issue or topic, I really don’t want to be bombarded with your continued polemic. We may have started talking about Global Warming or some such crucial socio-economic issue and somehow your continual outpouring of opinionated misinformation takes us on an incoherent journey through social health, immigration, social inequalities and how everything was much better under a previous, much lamented political regime.
Any attempts I may have made to bring the debate back to the initial point have long been exhausted and my focus has turned to counting the pigeons on a nearby rooftop.
Ok, maybe I need to choose a better quality of talking buddy.
However, it seems to me that we are becoming a society that has taken the important ideal of free speech to the extreme and as such undervalues the need to listen, think and reflect on what is being said to us and by whom.
“Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.” — George Eliot
I am reminded of the Belcerabons of Kakrafoon Kappa in the Douglas Admas books.
Once a serene and quiet civilization, a Galactic Tribunal sentenced them to telepathy because the rest of the galaxy found peaceful contemplation contemptuous. Ford Prefect compared them to Humans because the only way Belcerabons could stop transmitting their every thought was to mask their brain activity (or its readability) by talking endlessly about utter trivia. — Douglas Adams
Some talkers have the Belcerabon habit. Every silence is an opportunity to stop and think and since thinking may develop insight it is something to be avoided at all costs. Who wants to be seen as a contemptuous contemplative person?
The Power of Silence
We often misinterpret the sound of silence as being the behaviour of disinterest or sometimes ignorance. Yet it can be the sound of the present moment, of reflection of creativity. As such learning to embrace it is a skill we could all do well to practice.
“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
Silence really is golden
In any debate or conversation, it’s good to realise that silence is an appropriate and relevant response. This is something that is well-known amongst teachers.
In 1972, Mary Budd Rowe coined the phrase “wait time” to describe the period of time between a teacher’s question and a student’s response.
Rowe found that teachers typically wait between .7 seconds and 1.5 seconds before speaking after they have asked a question. However, when teachers utilize wait times of 3 seconds or more, she found that there were demonstrated increases in student creativity and learning. Robert Stahl further expanded on Mary Budd Rowe’s concept in 1994 by coining the term “think time” — the period of uninterrupted silence for both teachers and students to reflect on and process their thoughts, feelings, and reactions. — Jennifer Sullivan, Faculty Focus website
So, actively creating silent pauses in a conversation is proving that you are listening and thinking about what you’ve heard.
Remember that not everything you hear in a conversation neither needs nor warrants comment,
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” Abraham Lincoln
Even if you could correct the ignorance of someone who is speaking at you, its worth reflecting upon the value of doing so. Will the speaker actually listen? Will their ego’s allow for a challenge to their ‘knowledge’?
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”― Issac Asimov
Why we need silence
Studies into brain structure and function have found that a minimum of two hours of silence could result in the creation of new brain cells in the area of our brains linked to learning and recall.
Noise affects our stress levels by raising cortisol and adrenaline. Studies have found that silence can relieve tension in just two minutes.
Silence is more “relaxing” for your body and brain than listening to music; as measured by a lowering of blood pressure and increased blood flow to the brain.
Periods of silence throughout the day enhance sleep and lessen insomnia. We have all heard advice about “winding down” before bed but few of us apply it to ourselves.
Research throughout the 20th century has linked noise pollution to an increase in heart disease and tinnitus. The World Health Organization likened it to a “modern plague.”
Conor O’Shea writing for Lifehack found that on a retreat of 100 people, there was an increase in awareness and more time for personal reflection. There was space to listen to your inner voice and make measured decisions.
You will find yourself able to focus better. This seems pretty obvious but how many of us try to finish a report surrounded by noise or colleagues and how many youngsters insist on listening to music while studying? Numerous studies demonstrate that this is unhelpful.
Lowering sensory input helps us to restore our cognitive resources. We stop feeling overwhelmed. We can then tap into our creativity and daydream, fantasize and meditate.
Those who are feeling insecure tend to avoid silence in social situations. Talking constantly gives them the false belief that they are ‘making contact”
Some people not only ‘fall in love” with the sound of their own voice but are “passionately connected” to their opinions. They are not open to debate nor engaging in meaningful conversation.
It’s more than ok to respond with silence in a conversation.
Personal opinion can be the last refuge of the scoundrel whilst meaningful questions are the domain of the legitimate seeker of knowledge.
Practising silence has mental and emotional benefits.
“Speak only when you feel your words are better than silence.” — Anon
Some final words.
The first taken from Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata, 1927
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.