How do you feel about silence?

If you’re like most of us, silence makes us uncomfortable. In our daily lives, we’re inundated with sound. I recently found myself waiting for my car at the local mechanic, and I was amazed at the amount of sound in the lounge area. Between the piped-in Muzak, the frequent announcements over the intercom, and the sounds of people typing and talking, the room was full of noise. It struck me that most of my days really are quite noisy, and that this is also probably true for most people. We hear our co-workers on the phone, our computers ding each time we get an email, and our cell phones whistle like a parrot with every text we receive. We sleep with white noise machines playing in our bedrooms, we listen to iPods while we run, and our TVs are often left on simply to provide some background sound.

Because we’re so used to being surrounded by sound, suddenly finding ourselves in the midst of silence can be a little disconcerting. We’re used to having lots of audible stimulation – and when we don’t, it can feel a bit odd.

The same is true of our conversations. Many of us rush to fill the silence. We ask a question, and instead of waiting for the response, we keep talking to prevent an awkward pause. We’re uncomfortable with small talk or with getting to know someone new, so we relentlessly spew words at them to cover our nervousness. We have to say something difficult or emotional, and instead of saying it succinctly and stopping, we ramble in the hopes that we’ll say something to make the other person feel better.

Silence holds a lot of power. There is a vulnerability in being still. There’s no hiding behind noise, no distraction through words. There’s just quiet, and emotion, and the possibility of genuine connection – or rejection. It takes courage to let your question hang there between you and the person to whom you’re talking. It takes confidence to allow the other person time to tell you her story without rushing into your own. It takes compassion to say the difficult things in as positive a way as possible the first time around.

Personally, I’ve started trying to enjoy the silence more. I readily admit that I’m a sound junkie. I need music playing in the background to get any kind of writing done. If the house is too quiet, I turn on the TV. And I reach for my phone as soon as I hear that parrot whistle.

But when I’m having conversations that make me nervous or uncomfortable, I’m working on being OK with silence. I try to be conscious of not running on and on, of being better about giving the other person room to breathe, and think, and respond.

I’m starting to see that the guys from Depeche Mode got it right in their song “Enjoy the Silence” – “Words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm.” So join me in trying to enjoy the silence, and trusting that the things we learn, the people we connect with, and the reward of fully experiencing the emotions of the moment will be worth any scariness the silence causes.

What do you think? How do you enjoy the silence? Post your comments here!