Our disappearing appreciation of silence


A US Senator was recently criticized because when asked a question, he took 18 seconds of silence before answering.

Now… I’m not going to get into the politics of it all, or his possible reasons for waiting so long. But I do feel it’s necessary for us all to reflect on what it says about our society when 18 seconds of silence is newsworthy.

Think about it: only 18 seconds!

It’s newsworthy because it’s so unusual for anyone to pause before answering anymore. It’s unusual for anyone to think, truly think, before answering a question. And it’s unusual for mainstream media to permit any degree of silence or quietude to interrupt the nonstop go-go-go of noise that we hear 24/7.

Mozart famously said that “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”

Even our music nowadays avoids silence, cramming as many “hooks” as it can into every phrase.

Our whole society avoids silence. Try pausing before answering the next question someone asks you, and see how impatient they get. Try pausing before taking out your phone the next time you wait for an elevator. Try pausing in-between musical phrases the next time you sit down at the piano and improvise.

On the other hand, it doesn’t take much silence to let a little fresh air in.

Have you ever let a dinner conversation came to a peaceful silence when no one had anything else to say about a given topic? On the rare occasions when a group of people stops talking for 18 seconds, I’ve often been delighted by the new thought that someone comes up with.

Have you recently allowed yourself to sit at home silently for a few minutes, without checking your email or social media? Again, it’s often wonderful what unread book I’ll see on the shelf, waiting for me to dust it off and read it. And yes, it’s always a great moment when I can sit down at the piano and resist the temptation to immediately begin playing something. After all, the musical imagination springs from silence!

Yes Wolfgang Amadeus, the music is indeed in the silence, but maybe we’re not listening anymore.

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