Saturday, January 8, 2022

Reflections on a Silent Day

Artist: Bharati Iyer.
My first day of silence for 2022 was an interesting experiment. But I wonder if such an exercise has more of an impact on people who are used to either talking all day or having their lives filled with chatter. Surely the sudden shift into silence has to be far more jarring for people who engage in lots of small talk, who have a TV droning in the background all day, or whatever the case. Aside from our barking dogs or our chatty 10-year-old who randomly fills our house with outbursts of unexpected noise, we don’t have a particularly loud house to begin with.

From a personal standpoint, I didn’t notice much difference. I always have chatter going on in my head anyway, whether I’m talking or not. If anything, I was more aware of the aches and pains in my body, so I guess it is true that your other senses sharpen when you take one away.

My daughter, trying to be helpful, handed me a pencil and a notepad when she got up in the morning, but I didn’t really need it. When I needed to communicate with my wife, I texted her or typed out a message in a blank Word document. I also had to engage in an email exchange for work, and my kiddo got a laugh out of playing a game of charades with me later in the evening. Doing all of that felt like cheating on the purpose of the day, but on the other hand, that was all the “talk” I engaged in. I did reflexively say “Ow” once when I banged my head on the basement ceiling in the morning, and I told the dogs to “Stay” when I went outside the front gate to retrieve the mail, not thinking about it until immediately afterward.

I’m not looking for reasons to dispense with the exercise in silence, but for starters I think I may shift it to Saturdays, which is a day when I start working first thing in the morning, rather than halfway through the day, as I do on Fridays. Not speaking on a Friday left my wife with no one to talk to in the morning while we were cleaning up the basement together. Our kiddo, despite being homeschooled, isn't always around to engage in conversation, and our current house guest is often tied up with her own stuff.

I actually felt bad that my wife was having a one-way conversation with me for most of the day. For one thing, the tons of snow we've received here in North Idaho were rapidly melting with above-freezing temps and a steady rainfall on Friday, making the roads slushy and in many cases impassible. My wife had to run out to the store while I was working, and she came back to tell me her harrowing experience of being blinded when the windshield got sprayed with a load of slush, and how she spun out of a couple of times to and from her destination. I would have had to break my silence had she gotten into an accident, and I didn’t need her worrying about whether I’d be willing to do so. (Naturally, I would, but I didn't want the concern to be there.)

So my experiment didn’t feel fair to her. As it is, she mostly talks to the people she knows only by text, so it’s not like she has anyone to speak with if I go quiet -- except for the kiddo if she’s around, or our guest if she's around, or the dogs, but they don't talk back. So I’ll have to weigh any ongoing silent days against the needs of my wife and daughter. If something important comes up, maybe I just try again another day or start talking as needed and split the silence across two days.

I was thinking during the day that if I had a driving motivation for keeping silence, other than just enjoying the quiet and working on my listening skills, maybe that would make a difference. When I was looking up resources on how to successfully do a day of silence, I was inundated with search-engine algorithms throwing up page after page of information on taking a day of silence in support of the struggles of gays and lesbians. Apparently this is a thing. Well, the LGBT crowd has every major institution of power squarely in their corner, so they don’t need my help. But that did get me thinking about other people who are being silenced in one way or another in our current climate. 

And then I hit on an idea. I could devote a weekly day of silence, on a rotating monthly basis, in solidarity with others facing oppression. Something like this:

Week 1: For all who have been bullied or silenced by cancel culture. Whether your opinion has been “fact-checked” by propagandists, you’ve been kicked off social media, you’ve been ordered to “check your privilege” or “be less white,” your life has been threatened by woke rage mobs, or you’ve lost your livelihood for having the wrong opinion, I stand with you and sympathize with your forced silence.

Week 2: For all who have been compelled against their will to put on a mask, get a shot, or show their papers. If you’ve been made to feel like a leper or an untouchable, been denied entrance to a public place, been bullied by busybodies terrified of a virus with a 2% death rate, or made to feel like an extremist because you don’t treat the existence of immune systems as a conspiracy theory, I stand beside you in the face of those who silence and marginalize you.

Week 3: For all traditional Catholics and those in contemplative orders whose religious practices and observations are under attack from the highest levels of the church. By extension, I stand with all, regardless of religious or spiritual path, whose peaceful spiritual practices and beliefs are under threat for whatever reason. (To be perfectly clear, if you’re some kind of intolerant violent jihadist, you do not have my sympathies.)

Week 4: For all those who have been compelled to say something against their will. Compelled speech is anathema to free speech.

And for those months with an extra week: For all those willing to shut off the chatter in their lives, look deeply within themselves, and find the inner strength to stand fast to their own principles in a world where those who scream “tolerance” the loudest are the most eager to shut you up. Turn off your TV, stop letting others tell you what to think, live your own truth, and cultivate the mental discipline to fight for what you believe in, even if you’re the only one who believes in it. Being at peace with your own worldview, when it emerges from the sacred silence in a world where you've blocked out the loud and incessant demands of others, is something worth celebrating.

Now that’s a good list of causes to stand up for. And it may be what keeps this experiment going.

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