Monday, June 12, 2017

The Bard asks: Is Silence Golden, Or Just Plain Yellow?

To my Dear Wife Karen; Thank-You for this thought provoking title, spontaneously submitted!

I had never before been given a topic or a title for my blog, that might be opened up for my personal interpretation, regardless of the suggested idea put forward. This title, when offered, I receive from my dear wife one day as we were driving alone together. She has always seemed to enjoy my musings, so in conversation about my latest blog, I casually asked if she had a topic that might be of interest to her, and others. Each of us thinks differently and that is a good thing. While I had my original thoughts, as I mulled over in my mind a direction that the title might take me; at the time she offered no explanation on her idea. Before I tackled the theme that was now pervaded my thoughts on the title that she suggested, I decided to reconnoiter the lay of the land, and see if there might be some different revelation forthcoming from such a valuable source. She is such a dear and after a few minutes of circumspect silence, she thoughtfully voiced her reason for the suggestion, and left it for me to flesh out, and to later pay the consequences, if it did not meet her standards. I am not too concerned; I have not failed her yet, as far as I know, in literary undertakings. Your first insight into my real life! (Yes, I did chuckle as I wrote that!)

There is a duality in our natures that creates within us some very opposing situational events in life. For instance, what we may say in a moment of great challenge, might not always elicit the response we desire.  We live day to day under the assumption that everything is straightforward while we are very young. It doesn’t take long for us to understand that life can be complicated; as issues arise greying the areas of our understanding, while complications and contrasting voices expound differences of more than just opinion alone. It has been said that if you put 2 people together in one room, you will get 3 opinions and this presents the unstable foundation upon which we begin to set levels of personal expectations, and our perception of life being lived. That period of life, known as our formative years, is where we begin to find more than a confusing comprehension of a looming complexity, mixed into an already overwhelming diversity that life holds for us, and can lead us to the slippery slope of cynicism and doubt.

 It begins sometimes with the actuation of life’s most confusing issues; that being the challenges found in bringing up children in our home. I grew up hearing those directives, meant only to keep me in line and safe, yet bearing both the ridiculous and apparent message of confused context that most often portrays the frustration of a parent at their wits end.  At least I pray that is all it ever becomes. Have you ever heard someone in defeat say to their child; “If you don’t stop crying, I am going to give you something to cry about!” In fact I found myself using that same phrase as I as a parent, much to my chagrin. It did nothing to instill an assurance of process, in the hearts of my children, which would lead to perhaps a better dialogue of understanding and a positive outcome for both them and me. But I am able to now reflect on how hopelessly insufficient it all was, in helping my children to understand both their situation and my own, in such given circumstances. Ah, those awkward moments of self-confession. 

For those who have studied history, or even read novels on historic themes, you will know that in past centuries that spousal relationship was highly protected in secrecy, in fact just as much as one’s personal privacy. Not really so much has changed as we might think. Today secrets are still prevalent in all facets of society and are perhaps most blatantly visible throughout politics, as we well know. It is not good, we are told, to have a total open window into the running of our political machines. Too much information made available undermines security, fiscal planning, and economic stability… if all that can be believed. One might become totally paranoid and not want to discuss anything with anyone, if the barriers of total secrecy were broken down altogether. This brings us to my first premise, containing its own irony, when considered from a deeper perspective.

If silence is most often found while being totally alone (where silence is actually possible), how can it be golden? Here we must begin with the definitions related to the understanding of the old proverb; “Silence is golden!”  The internet relates that the poet Thomas Carlyle, translated the phrase from German in Sartor Resartus, 1831, where it is concluded that silence gives one the time, ability, environment to bring forth beautiful though, due to having time for clear and more purposeful thought (paraphrased). Most people are social in nature and will not often withdraw into a most private realm of presence without drastic provocation. You might say that we love to have interaction, the sound of laughter, conversation and as the mood strikes, and in some cases, the loud intervention of music and entertainment to heighten our zeal for life.

To withdraw into oneself, away from the din of the world, is not always as uplifting as we might think. For those of us who are introverts by nature, there can be a healing level of comfort to find ourselves alone from time to time. I understand from personal experience that this is not always the situation for everyone. Personally I was literally dragged from my shyness and the comfort levels I had in life, while remaining behind the scene. One day God called me into those arenas in life which became; as the phrase I have used often quite aptly describes it, as merely tinkling cymbal and sounding brass. I was called to the fray, the administration, into leadership when all I wanted was to be just one of the labourers at the table of life. Is there a clear and obvious time where we always feel content, at peace and yet fully engaged, while in the midst of total silence?

I have met people who find it difficult to find themselves comfortable in total silence, being enabled to bask in the possibility of total relaxation or the opportunity to find inspiration, either in problem solving or the healing of the soul. They have a tendency to panic rather than relax. Most may define it more normal to use their ability to withdraw from the world and curl up with a book and steep themselves in in a quiet time of reading; but, is this what we can call true silence. We may not hear the children’s playtime, or the television’s low expressions of media, but is this true silence? We have to ask then this question; “What can be defined as true silence?” In the observation of eastern meditation, it could be defined as focused presence, the absence of thought along any vein of concern. You can see the dichotomy of the issue at hand.  It may be that much depends upon our desire for outcome. Thus is the quiet reading of a book true silence for the soul, if one is in an interactive state with the plot?

Where there is an overwhelming negativity to find ourselves in a state of emptiness; to awaken to the fact that we are more confident in the presence of the others, desiring the opportunity to interact for our own comfort, the idea of silence being golden rings with less of a kinship with our take on life. Here is where the idea of silence, as being just plain yellow, begins to find the basis of meaning in some perspectives. There is no right answer to everything in life, but here as we have considered the first of the varying viewpoints on this proverb, let us at least take into consideration that the variables found in those perspectives do not always have a more correct or acceptable answer. If silence is to be both a unique and acceptable state for all of us, then may we offer to those who seek both true silence in the emptying out themselves in meditation, and to the others who seek a more quieting comfort in whatever level of silence seems most appropriate for them, a loving respect for their individual choice.

This brings me to the second premise which contains a certain element of fundamental decision making, where again not everyone feels either secure or comfortable. Is silence really golden or are we fearful of speaking out and being heard? I was never told that my opinion was worthless by my parents. Of course there were others who made it plain that what I had to say meant little in the grand scheme of things, but those naysayers were mere mortals like me and in that grand scheme, it is sometimes better to have not spoken, than to decide to choose to make a fool of those who chide you. After years of chairing very large boards and committees, I soon found that when the time is right; in God’s timing, your voice is heard by those who need to hear what you have to say. But, it does build one’s character and sense of worth to hear someone say to you; “It’s OK… I want to hear your opinion!” and really mean it. I have questioned, down through the years, while counselling with people, whether they ever had a voice in anything. Sometimes people can be very cruel.

I grew up in an era where children were to be seen and not heard. Well, perhaps I am only partly right in that; it was merely on the fringe of acceptable practice in families at that time. I grew up in the early post Second World War generation. I was born into a family who were loving, and for the most part accepting of everyone’s voice on matters. I remember when our Mom decided that it was necessary to reconfigure our home to accommodate both our family and our grandmothers. There was also to be a built-in added income flat upstairs, to give us more financial freedom, which would allow my Dad to work less hard to make ends meet.  My mother at the time was busy, when time afforded, making drawings, and so with delight I waded in with my own set of concept drawings, which ranged from underground bunkers to images of castles. There was no end to my creativity and each plan was accepted as part of the process, even though they were kindly rejected for more modest and feasible models.

The point here is that perhaps the level of accepted interactivity, modeled in family in our early years, goes a long way toward what level of confidence we display in being forthcoming, with our opinions or revelations about self or situations, in our later years. Time does not heal all wounds. Once stung, twice cautious, as a proverb seems to ring as a more temporary truth, but actually has a more lasting influence on people that we might think. Without the opportunity, somewhere along the pathway of life, to overcome such life shaping negative influence, one may always struggle to feel either equipped, or at ease in situations calling for opinion, reflections, or even one’s own defense if needed. I used to use an illustration of this concept being a real part of growing up and finding the ability to trust. When an infant is placed on a tabletop and we hold out our hands and beckon them to run into our arms. If they feel secure they will, without much hesitation or great consideration, toddle or run into your arms, even stepping off the edge of the table to do so. As long as you don’t drop the child, causing them their first experience of fear, they will repeat the action and giggle in enjoyment while doing so. But, drop them, or allow someone to enter the room shouting their disapproval, stating that the child could fall, then trust is ether lost or badly shaken. We are products of our upbringing in many ways, shaping our personality and forming our behavior in community.

So there is this further complication in life, where it is not always golden to be silent. In this latter premise of thought, persons withholding from interaction for whatever reason, or on the other hand those others who want answers, may be of that opinion that silence is much less than golden. Consider the case of two people seeking love in their relationship; with one person who does not feel the need to speak openly after the vows, and the other who longs for those moments of intimacy in sharing self, in spoken reflection of life history or personal desire, here golden is far from an adjective for silence. It is more likely that in this scenario these people may be finding silence as just plain yellow… some worn out and faded, diminishing joy, in life. I’ve worked with some relationships not too far in the past. A wife once related to me that her husband had not told her that he loved her after the wedding vows were spoken. His take was simple; “She knows that I love her…. I told her enough to get her to marry me!” Life is not always as simple as we presume it to be. The complexity of issues for all of us can rob us of meaningful interaction that might otherwise allow a blossoming relationship in life.

There is of course “that” silence, quite often misunderstood, and that is in relationship with God. There is so much to be said on this topic and I will deal with it in a greater depth another time. But, in the case of silence with God, it is far different from that silence of God. In life, no matter our nature, we can come to God freely and in confidence of His hearing us. We may feel that “His silence” is not golden, for it “is” sometimes difficult to hear His voice above the scream of our constant and consistent pleas. “OH!”… you say! Many are there who forget that Biblical characters,(even the Christ), had to withdraw, and in silence await the strength, courage and direction, forthcoming from God for their lives.  Are you waiting in silence for that loved one’s voice to join yours in intimate conversation, or more importantly awaiting God to speak plainly, clearly and loudly, so that the intention of His message for your life is succinctly understood? Remember if you will, that in the case of God’s silence, it is for our good. I pray that your decision for silence is golden for you and those around you… not a mere yellow reflection of what should be for a more desirable, healthy and secure life. May the Lord bless you in your attempts at a positive silence… it is living near the edge when attained, and the view from there can be astounding!




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