Years ago, when I was taking a unit on Environmental Education for my teaching degree, one of my professors was discussing how wisdom is perceived, depending on the culture. He had spent a good amount of time in Papua New Guinea, and talked about the fact that silence was a measure of wisdom and knowledge there. When people were quiet, this was an indication of intelligence. Silence is also a significant part of their culture and tradition.
This has stayed with me, through those years, not least because I am not really one to stay silent! I talk… quite a lot. But that’s had to change a bit over the last couple of days, because I’ve lost my voice.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I still have my voice, but it’s a whisper of its usual self, and cuts out in higher registers, which makes for interesting listening, should I get excited about something. Add to this the problem that if I talk for too long, I get a tickle in my throat which prompts spasms of violent coughing. It’s fun! (Not really.)
Not having a (strong) voice means I have to choose carefully when to talk. So I’m adapting my parenting technique so I can save my voice. Instead of yelling at our Offspring from another room, I’ll go to them so I can get their attention and I’ll only have to say something once. Or, if I need to call out to them, I’ll wait for a response, so I know they’re listening, and can avoid repetition.
If only I did this all the time! I’m sure it would be better for all our sanity. And I’m sure this could apply to many other situations, as well. You might recall that I mentioned there had been a scare about a Hepatitis A outbreak here in Australia a few months ago. I was particularly concerned, given that I’d not only eaten and fed the berries to my own family, but also to a visiting schoolfriend of First Offspring. Luckily, the danger period has passed, and nobody became sick. But during this time, I happened to tune into Question Time while listening to the radio in the car one day. I should explain that I don’t tune into Question Time on purpose – I find it irritating and confrontational. And that day was no exception.
The Opposition party was asking about the number of Hepatitis A cases which had been confirmed, and were attacking the government for not knowing how many people living in Australia had been exposed to the virus. Now, it’s no secret that this government is not my favourite government. I’d prefer a different one, to say the least. But in this case, I was on their side. Just how were they supposed to know how many people bought the product, and how that product was consumed? I mean, I’m all for the opposition opposing the government; that’s what they’re there for. However, there’s no point in launching a tirade of accusations which the government can’t possibly defend against.
As I turned off the radio, I said aloud, ‘Oh, stop talking.’
Yes. STOP TALKING.
What is the point of all those words? Why are we in love with lengthy speeches which in reality are just a series of variations on a theme? More words supposedly means that we know more, that we have more important things to say, but what if that’s not the case? Could it not also mean that we lack the ability to be succinct? What if we were to more carefully choose our words? What if we were more frugal with our words? If we spent them carefully, they might just have more meaning. Even on this blog – I set out to ensure that each post was roughly 1000 words long, but sometimes (like today, for instance!), I can say what needs to be said in fewer. So often, we keep talking when we really don’t have anything (very interesting or intelligent) to say. What if we just didn’t say it?
We could do well to take a leaf from the Pacific island nations, to place a greater emphasis on silence. If we weren’t talking all the time, we could be listening. Observing. There are many occasions when words are not necessary, and when silence and reflection might, in fact, lead to better understanding about our own beliefs and those of others. This is something for me to remember, when my voice (hopefully) returns in a few days.