We Don’t Need Silencing, But We Do Need Silence

Communicating in an authentic way, so that we’re not just adding noise, is going to take a lot of disrupting silence.

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Emma Gonzalez—the high school student who survived the Parkland school shooting and became an activist seeking changes in America’s response to gun violence—stood in silence for six minutes and twenty seconds on March 24 at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, DC. She wanted to acknowledge the amount of time it took for 17 students to be murdered and 17 students to be maimed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day.

Her lengthy moment of silence made the words she had chosen to say up to that point even more eloquent. It was a brave and a bravura moment. It takes courage to stand resolutely in front of people and tacitly ask them to join you in silence. Silence in public can be very awkward, but it can also be powerful.

In these times when our communities are divided along many lines, perhaps we need more silence. Perhaps we need more quiet.

Yes, we need to speak up—without question.

People who haven’t been heard need to be heard. We don’t need silencing, but we do need to find little bits of time free of noise, and free of talking.

Words can convey deep meaning, obviously. They can help us to understand others. They can help us to be understood. But words can also obscure and overcomplicate. Words can become empty. They can become noise.

And when words become noise, the noise distracts us. We are tempted to always respond in kind, to have something to say, to offer a counterargument—and that may be needed—but sometimes not saying is helpful. It helps us to have moments to listen to our own mind, to listen to our own heart, and to take the time to feel, deeply. When we are able to do that, we may be able to find the space to uncover the openness we need to accept changes and to make changes.

It helps us to have moments to listen to our own mind, to listen to our own heart, and to take the time to feel, deeply.

Given a chance, all of us respect the power of silence, even if we have to pass through some discomfort to get there. Listening to Emma Gonzalez say exactly nothing for over six minutes, many people grew restive and started to interrupt the quiet to ease the tension with small pockets of noise. And yet, the majority of people did not break the silence. They sensed it would be breaking something precious.

Silence not only can provide space and peace, it can also disrupt our complacency by demanding our full attention with something bigger than words alone. When someone chooses not to speak, as the saying goes, the silence can “speak volumes.” Nearly 50 years before the landmark March on Washington that thrust Martin Luther King, Jr. into the limelight, in July 1917, over 8,000 African-Americans marched through the streets of Manhattan wordlessly, to call attention to lynchings, shootings, and mob violence perpetrated against African-Americans. It is regarded as a key element in the birth of the modern civil rights movement.

Let’s all try to share more quiet. It may help us sort out what is worth sharing and what we need to listen to, particularly in fractious times. It may help us respond to others—particularly those with whom we disagree—more genuinely rather than simply reacting in a standard way. Our words, when we choose them, may have more power. We may listen with more of ourselves.

Meditation is often thought of as fancy and complicated, and maybe even hard to do. But a lot of meditation, of mindfulness, has simply to do with being truly quiet for a time. Underneath all the noise, we may touch in with a natural restfulness and clarity that can help us find our way.