Five Things I’ve Learned Five Days Into My Vow of Silence…
Sometimes it doesn’t take long to learn a lesson.
To the closest people in my life, I am silent. I don’t speak a word to them. Nor do I write anything out that is unnecessary. I decided to take this step when I Realized how dependent I am on speaking my mind all the time. Sometimes when it’s unwarranted. Sometimes when I don’t even know what I’m saying, really. I started to realize that often I’m looking for something to say, even when my voice isn’t needed. Though my friends told me they didn’t understand my desire for silence, I understood that I’d spent a great deal of time listening to myself talk and listening to others respond, and very little understanding of either.
Further, I’m not sure why people like me or what makes them gravitate toward me. In fact, I usually feel like I like people way more than they like me. For the past few months, I’ve felt everything I have to say is useless. It’s contributed to a lot of the fuel of my seasonal depression. I believe that being silent will tame my constant need for affirmation from other people. I wanted people to come to me, instead of the other way around. I wanted to welcome others instead of looking for a home in other people to be welcome to.
I made exceptions to my silence. The first is that if you contact me first, we can still speak, but only where no one else can see. That is, text messages and phone calls where I am in private. The other exception is, if someone truly wants to see me, they can “summon” me. That means, they can arrange when and where and only if they are present can I speak. But these are exceptions I only made for people who I truly care about.
I’m a firm believer that it doesn’t take long to learn very valuable lessons. Many people tell you that wisdom doesn’t come until you’ve lived several decades, but I find that if you make yourself a deliberate observer of the universe around you, you can see just about anything. I believe this is a skill we should all cultivate so that we can learn our lessons quickly and move on. Instead of looking backward and realizing that our past selves have known the truth all along.
That said, I’ve learned quite a bit in the past few days and since I am itching to say something, anything, I am going to name five of those things.
One: Most people really need to shut up themselves.
When I first announced my two week experiment, there were several people who told me that they could never be quiet for two whole weeks. In my head, I thought: That’s all the more reason to do it. After all, if you can’t control the urge to run your mouth, wouldn’t that mean you might need a vacation from talking?
By my third day of silence, and being among conversations of others, I realized most people talk just to get a response. It wasn’t a new realization but it became a nagging annoyance as I played the role of an active listener. Scrolling social media, I realized that many exchanges are quite vacuous. Many of us merely trying to gain more followers clout from those we follow.
Silence was calming because I didn’t feel the need to interject with my equally useless thoughts. Instead, I thought about how I could improve the quality of the conversations I usually have, and vowed to never initiate one for the sake of placating loneliness. Silence is actually very comforting when you realize that most noise is just a way to pacify our intolerance of solitude.
Two: People gravitate to you for specific reasons.
This was my favorite and most valuable lesson. A few days before my silence, I spoke to a friend who actually tipped me off on this. She told me that there are distinct reasons people gravitate toward you and when you learn these reasons, it’s very easy to control your relationships with others. It was probably one of the most insightful things I’d heard someone say in a while. Especially because it came at a time I really needed it.
Not contacting certain people was hard, but about 48 hours into my silence, people began to contact me. Some simply wanted to be listened to, some just wanted to know I was loved and so were they, and others wanted to have a conversation about one thing or another. All came to me for different reasons. Some of them just as pointless as those in reason one (a response) and some that are very intimate and valuable.
One friend simply wanted to give me some wisdom about other people, and typed away as I periodically dropped an emoji to indicate my engagement in the conversation. Another spent all day venting to me about things they didn’t think I would have listened to in the same way otherwise. Another called just to ask me about my thoughts on certain topics, and share theirs with me as well.
Developed over time, I see a lot of power in this kind of realization and I understand it takes time to develop and understand. While I have learned a lot about who I am to myself in the past three or so years, learning who I am to others has always been hard for me to understand. I will definitely continue to observe these patterns even after my silence is over.
Three: Some people just want to be listened to.
A short but brief realization, that just as therapeutic as it is to not feel required to say anything, it can be therapeutic to be a “safe space” for someone to talk without judgement, unwarranted advice or opinion. Quite a few of my friends have simply talked while I sat silent on the line and let them say whatever was on their mind. I’d simply respond “thank you,” before getting off the phone.
Just listening was something I thought I was doing before my vow of silence, but I realized that usually I am a problem solver, a complainer, and quite possibly an instigator in people’s lives. I have friends who do these things to me as well. I believe it’s a natural human response to things, one that is quite irrelevant when all some people need is to absolve themselves of their burdens. Oscar Wilde said something of this about confessionals. That the confessor absolves himself of his sins. Or something like that. Because I don’t have the quote in front of me.
Four: There is power in saying nothing.
One of my favorite Royksopp songs says, “A woman holds her tongue, knowing silence will speak for her.” I don’t think you have to be a woman for silence to send a message, or not, but it truly does have a lot of power in it. When people don’t know what’s on your mind, they’re far more careful and respectful of you.
I was recently in a new city and I didn’t speak at all. When people realized I wasn’t going to use language to express myself, they became way more attentive of me and aware of my nonverbal cues. Though they were the ones speaking, I was able to dominate the conversation just by being the person who needed the most attention.
Congruently, people I knew were often way more curious of me. Looking for ways to corner me or reach me when I was alone to ask me how I was feeling, what I was thinking or if I needed anything. These are things that I don’t hear much when I’m expected to speak.
Five: It wouldn’t be so bad to be even more silent, possibly for longer.
The goal of this silence is simply fourteen days, so that I could be back to speaking right before the holiday. However, if I wind up liking it and thinking I can stand it I will be even more silent and less visible and accessible between the first quarter of the year (January through March). I’ve learned that most of the time, speaking is rather necessary. Opinions are some of the most useless tools we use in communication and gossip and judgement are just as fruitless. I’d rather only speak when I have something of true value to say. Something that dead air can’t do without.