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S is for Silence (or lack of)

Anyone who knows me well will testify that quiet is something I do not do well. For many years I was cursed at any kind of work off site trainings – they do not do them that often now, which I have mixed feelings about – where part of the schedule would be ‘break out’ small groups that, huddled around a flipchart, would try and answer some obtuse challenge in too short a time period. This exercise in futility was itself not a problem. The issue is the truly painful exercise of each group having to summarise its findings back to the plenary. For this, a spokesperson would be needed. Everyone in each small group would steadfastly not look at the other group members when the momentous decision to choose the sacrificial goat was required. Each person hoping that someone else would volunteer. Each person playing a kind of game of chicken where the first person to break the silence would end up having to make up something for the rest of the small group that made everyone sound intelligent and/or achieved something in the exercise.

I’m not good at this form of chicken. I cannot cope with silence for very long. It is not, as I suspect some people think, that I like the sound of my own voice or even that I think I have something vital to say. It is just I get exponentially uncomfortable after someone has asked a question and no one responds. I need to fill that gap if someone has not filled it already. I need there to be noise.

This manifests at home in a very obvious way. The Lovely Wife jokes that it is quite clear when I am in the house and when I am not. The first thing I do when I come in is to turn on the radio, or if it is that rare time of day when the only programs are one that make my teeth grind, then put some music on instead. If I go out and the Lovely Wife is in, the radio will be off again within minutes of me exiting stage left (rarely pursued by a bear). If I am working, music in the background helps me concentrate. I think if it is silent, I have a tendency to focus on the silence, in the same way nothing fills my imagination than the darkness. I become obsessed with the silence, why is it quiet? Something must be wrong. Whereas, if someone is burbling on gently in the background it is clear that the world has not, in fact, ended and I can get on with what I am doing. For the Lovely Wife it is the opposite. We accept this, and we make it work by the use of lowered volume and closing of doors at relevant times.

Why I need noise is a something we have discussed at times. Partly it is an extrovert/introvert thing but there is also something about what you have become used to. My upbringing was in a house where the TV was always on; often in two different rooms, and if the TV was off it would be radio or vinyl or cassette player. The only time the house was ever quiet was when no one was home. In all my years as a student and as a single man, the one reassurance I could count on was music, and so it was never really quiet for long (I needed lots of reassurance in those days). I can appreciate silence and why for many this can bring rest and relaxation. However, it is not for me, so sorry but I am about to turn the volume up – I need to think.


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