The swish of our skins gliding on the refrozen snow was the only sound that greeted us as we traipsed through the old mining camp, the preternatural quiet of winter making the town ethereal. The stillness of our sojourn was broken only occasionally by brotherly banter; the two of us comfortable enough with each other’s presence, after a lifetime of adventuring, that sparse conversation was not a referendum on our relationship. We reveled in the hushed tranquility. Out of our silence sprang the power of thoughtful, measured speech. As I might be charitably described as loquacious and less flatteringly as gabby or bombastic, it was a reminder of the strength of restraint.
In our new world of self-promotion and -absorption, there is a direct incentive to produce as many words as possible. The metrics of commerce reward the prolific. Inherently, the one-way expulsion of verbiage blocks out the ability to hear and therefore listen. And, when others talk, we use that time to plot the best way to pitch our own idea. Conversation devolves into consecutive soliloquies; there is no connection made, no meeting of the minds.
Communication breakdown being at the root of most disputes, it is no small wonder that we find ourselves in contentious times. We speak when it is not in our best interest, when it is in fact actively worse for our interest, because we do not understand how to be silent. We make the mistaken assumption that we will be proven right if we can only just explain our position. Or, conversely, we hope that a lengthy monologue will erase our mistakes. Culpability does not have a word count.
The natural world has so much to teach us humans, who are at once part of nature and yet growing apart. The literally glacial pace of geologic time is a model of the patience with which we should act and react. To step into the woods and experience silence punctuated by intermittent wind gusts or bird chirps profoundly impacts how one views the sonic onslaught to which the modern person is subjected. It invites peaceful contemplation, a state of mind whose value cannot be overstated.
In an era of unrelenting noise, it is the silent who can wield the most influence. To remain stoic when your opponent blows a gasket suggests that you may yet win without speaking a word. When the insecure blab to cover up their fear, to be quiet is to exhibit ultimate confidence. As we all know, if being confident isn’t everything, it is most things.
One does not have to completely refrain from speaking. But, when one does not talk frequently, each utterance becomes precious, an event unto itself. Instead of being tuned out, the taciturn are given a pulpit, their words imbued with importance. Each word of Hemingway’s lands like a punch, whereas Tom Robbins churns out a sea through which one must wade. Both produce works of great beauty, but the latter requires more leeway on the part of the reader.
Of course, I have just spent more than 500 words telling you that silence is good, so perhaps I still have a lesson or two to learn about brevity. I’m going to be quiet now. OK, now.