Tag: silence

On the discourse of being

Words often fail us and prove inadequate in the face of the most profound human experiences, whether tragic, ecstatic, or sublime. And yet it is in those moments, perhaps especially in those moments, that we feel the need to exist for lack of a better word, either to comfort or to share or to participate. But the medium best suited for doing so is the body, and it is the body that is, of necessity, abstracted from so much of our digital interaction with the world. With our bodies we may communicate without speaking. It is a communication by being and perhaps also doing, rather than by speaking.

Of course, embodied presence may seem, by comparison to its more disembodied counterparts, both less effectual and more fraught with risk. Embodied presence enjoys none of the amplification that technologies of communication afford. It cannot, after all, reach beyond the immediate place and time. And it is vulnerable presence. Embodied presence involves us with others, often in unmanageable, messy ways that are uncomfortable and awkward. But that awkwardness is also a measure of the power latent in embodied presence.

Embodied presence also liberates us from the need to prematurely reach for rational explanation and solutions — for an answer. If I can only speak, then the use of words will require me to search for sense. Silence can contemplate the mysterious, the absurd, and the act of grace, but words must search for reasons and fixes. This is, in its proper time, not an entirely futile endeavor; but its time is usually not in the aftermath. In the aftermath of the tragic, when silence and “being with” and touch may be the only appropriate responses, then only embodied presence will do. Its consolations are irreducible. This, I think, is part of the meaning of the Incarnation: the embrace of the fullness of our humanity.

Words and the media that convey them, of course, have their place, and they are necessary and sometimes good and beautiful besides. But words are often incomplete, insufficient. We cannot content ourselves with being the “disincarnate users” of electronic media that McLuhan worried about, nor can we allow the assumptions and priorities of disincarnate media to constrain our understanding of what it means to be human in this world.

via The Frailest Thing.

Silence serves to connect in Finland

A cross-cultural case of silence:

A professor of Nordic literature at the University of Helsinki, tells a joke. How do you know if the Finn on the elevator with you is outgoing? When he’s looking at your shoes instead of at his own.

The key to the Finnish character is quietude. Finns rarely enter into conversation with strangers; words are chosen carefully; small talk is considered suspect. Instead Finns revere “sacred silence” and hold that keeping quiet is healthy and promotes thoughtfulness.

(…) Some researchers view the trademark Finnish reticence as more pathological, linking it to depression and emotional repression and citing Finns’ high rates of suicide, alcoholism, and high blood pressure. In 2004, a theater director named Turo Herala made big news in Helsinki when he began offering anger-venting classes–a true novelty. “Anger in Finland is a bigger taboo than sex,” Herala explained to a reporter.

Laughing out loud isn’t common either. Children are taught early on to resist their impulses. Bragging about personal accomplishments is the worst thing a Finn can do. “If you can’t control yourself, you are regarded as immature,” explains Keltikangas-Järvinen.

Given the right situation, though, Finns can become excited and voluble. In the familiar environment of the sauna–there’s one for every two Finns–they sometimes become embarrassingly open and candid.

And things are changing; the technical revolution has kicked the shy Finn out of the closet. They are among the most wired–and wireless–people in the world; 95 percent own a cell phone. In the remote summer cottage, the modem Finn still finds his sacred silence, but nowadays he mixes the Internet with this primitive escape.

Source: Psychology Today; Jan/Feb2007, Vol. 40 Issue 1, p28.