The Sound of Silence
RECOLLECTIONS, REFLECTIONS - Dr. Jose R. Gullas (The Freeman) - September 22, 2019 - 12:00am

I don’tunderstand people who cannot stand even a moment of silence. After just few seconds of quiet, they’d become fidgety – then try to grab some sound: either they put on some music or they begin to talk nonsense, just to fill the ‘void’. But silence is not void; in fact, it can be a fertile ground for knowledge and for wisdom to grow.

And it’s often the unwelcome sound that makes friendships turn sour, relationships break, and tempers explode. Take, for instance, the ranting of a spouse. Perhaps we all should learn to hold our tongue, to be circumspect in sharing our thoughts and opinions.

During my short stint in politics, in the early 2000s, I had come face-to-face with the power of silence. One time, when I was campaigning for a seat in Congress, an elderly woman approached me. She seemed very familiar with the political career of my brother Eddie, whose congressional position I was intending to fill at the time. Eddie was on his third term as congressman, and was prohibited by law to run for a fourth continuous term; and it was he who asked me to run.

The woman mentioned the political savvy of my brother, and hinted that it might be very difficult for me to “fill in my brother’s shoes.” While she was narrating all this, I fell silent. I just knew that it was a learning opportunity for me – to know what had already been done in the past by my brother and to know what the pubic expected of me.  I did not say a word, except a word of gratitude when she was done. And we parted with good feelings towards each other.

The woman’s words prompted several ideas in my head. I began to think of certain projects to embark on, if I’d win. Her original intention for talking to me might have been to discourage me. But, instead, her words fired me up all the more.

At another time, still during my campaign for Congress, a decent-looking man came to me. Without even introducing himself, the man proceeded right on in preaching platitudes to me. Again, I fell silent; for how would I react to ideas that were as commonplace as the air everyone breathed?

But, truth to tell, there were things I learned from the man. His words gave me an idea of how things looked from the vantage point of the common citizen, who represented the majority of my constituents in the district. When he was done ‘preaching’ to me, I thanked him and he quickly walked away.

To my big surprise, as the man had disappeared other people stepped forward to tell me something. They told me not to mind what the man had said. The man was the village fool!

I am convinced that knowledge and wisdom could come to us from anywhere and from anyone. A teacher can wear many different faces. And good learning is as dependent on the eagerness of the student as on the skills of the teacher.

Everyone has their stories to tell – the rich and mighty, the poor and lowly, the educated and the dumb alike. But we need to listen well in order to truly hear. The poem “Desiderata” puts it best: “…Listen to others. Even the dull and ignorant, they too have their story.”

At times, though, we find ourselves around a person who tends to talk endlessly. The person makes us think that he does not really know what he is talking about. All his blabber appears to be simply an effort to hide his ignorance behind a wall of words.

I’ve had the experience, quite a lot of it, of people coming to me asking for support. They might have heard somewhere that I am always open to hear out people’s woes, to try to lessen others’ hardships if I can. Some of these people would talk on and on such that by the time they end I’d be already bored and my inclination to help would have diminished.

It is a rare talent indeed to know the moment when to speak and when to be silent. Sadly, as I have mentioned, most people do not realize the great value of silence. They miss the fact that amid the cacophony of the various sounds in this worldly life, silence can be the escape route into the sanctum of inner peace.    

The acquisition of knowledge and wisdom begins with silence. It is, therefore, a fundamental ability to have – to be able “to will” to stop the noise, both inside oneself and out in the world. It is so hard to hear anything amid the clatter.

The prophets and wise men of old sought isolation and quiet time. They sought silence in order to figure out the real picture of things. They needed silence in order to hear the truth of the universe.

I believe, based on personal experience, that a person needs to take a moment of silence – to be able to distance himself a bit from a pressing issue, to have an objective view of things. Silence also gives him the opportunity to refresh his ties with the divine, the anchor of his true self. For it is only in silence that one can possibly hear the whisper of God.

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