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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, , Professor Emeritus of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra.

Rediscovering the richness of silence

Mon, 21 Mar 2016 15:00:00 +0000 Published in AltoAragón Newspaper

There are people who have an ability that I admire and envy: writing in a very noisy place. For example, journalists who write their daily column in a cafeteria with music blaring, joined by the noise of the slot machines and the shouts of the waiter asking the kitchen for "another shrimp". Or poets like José Hierro, who wrote his best poems at the cafeteria on the corner. I know that when some of those all-terrain writers have tried to do the same in a country house where only the song of a bird can be heard they have not been able to; the silence disturbed them: "here I neither get inspired nor concentrate!" 

The human being needs moments of silence to know himself better and to become more self-absorbed; that is why he flees from excessive and continuous noise that takes him away from himself. It is a problem that is difficult to solve, since we live in a very noisy world, starting with the family home.

In any home, the washing machine, dishwasher, vacuum cleaner, radio, stereo and television are usually switched on at the same time, and as a result, every so often the fuses go off, leaving the house in darkness and silence. As a result, every now and then the fuses go off, leaving the house in darkness and silence. Blessed fuses that rescue us and free us from the torture of noise and transport us in a second to a habitable world already lost in which it was possible to live a family life! Shouldn't these truces be prolonged?

I propose something more realistic: declare a room in the house as a zone of silence (perhaps we should cover its walls with cork). And why not do it in the waiting rooms of train stations and airports with a registration of this subject: "you are in a space of silence. Noise gets on our nerves". This is not an exaggeration: is noise less harmful to health than smoking?

Noise expresses the superficial, the empty of content, the repetitive; on the other hand, silence refers us to deep and authentic messages. Silence is creative; the passage from the known to the unknown must take place in silence and from silence.

Today's society ignores silence. This has consequences, as explained by M. Sánchez Monge: "not having times of silence means living day by day, without depth, without real questions or hopes. It implies little sensitivity and lack of wonder at something as marvelous as the fact of being alive. A person who does not seek silence ignores what he or she is living for.

The man of today does not know the great value of silence, so he does not look for it. And if he ever finds it without looking for it, he does not know what to do with it and is frightened: in the mirror of silence he sees reflected an image of himself that surprises him and that he may not like. And instead of facing this reality, he flees to take refuge in activism and useless words.

True communication does not begin with words, but is born of silence and listening, and then matures in the same way: with a persevering attitude of silence and listening. 

Silence is more than the absence of sound and words: it is a humble, respectful and patient attitude. By keeping silent, we allow the other to express him/herself and we give up clinging to our own ideas and words. This is especially important in conjugal love. By keeping silent we allow silence to work. There are times when words distract and get in the way, and communication based on silences is more opportune, especially as married couples grow older and the limitations of age arrive. That is the message of these verses:

When you become mute,/ when I become blind,/ we'll be left with our hands/ and silence./ When you become old,/ when I become old,/ we'll be left with our lips/ and silence.

This view of silence is typical of marriages with romantic love. But, to be realistic, we should also mention marriages in which silence is seen in a prosaic way. 

Conversation between two friends:

-It has been twenty days since my wife has spoken to me.

-Take care of her! Women like that don't exist anymore.

Benedict XVI wrote that silence springs from the fullness that dwells in us, which comes from the fullness of God. That is why silence is indispensable in prayer. He added that solitude and silence are privileged spaces to help people rediscover themselves and the Truth that gives meaning to all things.