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May 31, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 3 Faves: 0

The Power of Silence

By Anne Christen More Blogs by This Author

Free to Be Me

I’ve always believed silence is golden. In college, I remember a professor telling me that students who studied with classical music playing in the background performed considerably better on tests than those who studied in silence. I tried it for several weeks and found I was actually distracted by the music. I couldn’t concentrate on what I read, so I was constantly having to go back over entire paragraphs. For me, the incorporation of classical music to my studying sessions was counter-productive.

Since then, I’ve come to value the power of silence. I don't necessarily need to be in a silent room at all times, but I'm usually able to complete more work when I’m not distracted by external noise. I really enjoy music of all types, but when I’m alone, songs tend to evoke memories that just lead to more tangential thoughts.

In silence, I’m free to just be me. I’m not plagued by unwanted thoughts or memories, I don’t have to give attention to any type of media, and I can perform the task before me without interruption.

Silence Can Kill

However, not everyone feels the same. For instance, a close friend of mine hates silence. He avoids it at all costs. When he isn’t playing music, whether from his iPod or computer, he’s watching movies. He works, drives, and cooks with music on at all times. I asked him about this and was a little surprised by his response.

“Words can wound,” he told me, “but silence can kill.”

I asked what he meant by this, and he said he was previously involved with a woman who would periodically argue with him, as most people in relationships do. Toward the end of the relationship, however, the woman stopped arguing. She didn’t chide, berate, or debate. In fact, she stopped talking altogether, especially about her emotions. And that, he says, is what ultimately killed the relationship.

I don’t agree with his assessment, but he won’t listen to my rebuttals. I tell him the relationship died before she stopped talking, and that’s why she stopped. Yet, he maintains his original theory. Because it was his relationship, I don’t argue with him.

We Are the Composite of Our Experience

Clearly, my friend’s attitude toward silence is very different from my own. His theory has made me wonder if it is better to argue in a relationship than to sit in quiet solitude. I don’t know the answer because I haven’t had many positive relationship experiences. An ex-boyfriend of mine drank each night until he was nearly blind with alcohol, at which point, he would start hurling insults and calling me names.

I used to argue with another ex until I was nearly hoarse. This typically occurred on those mornings after he had stayed out all night, when he was tired and hung-over, and I was raw with anger. So, again, shouting ensued.

Perhaps, then, my attitude toward silence is a result of my past experiences. To me, it’s a reprieve from all the past hurt I’ve ever known. My friend views silence as an end, but I view it as a beginning. Maybe it’s neither one nor the other, but a little bit of both.

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  • I agree a small bit with both. If I am trying to study, I need silence. My mind is too easily distracted by other things. But, in the bulk of my life, I need noise, be it the TV or music. It talks to me when others are not. It keeps my mind off of things that are only detrimental to my life. I walk in my house at night, I turn on something, then cook dinner. It has to be with me. Silence feels very awkward to me unless I make the world silent in order to accomplish a bigger task, like studying. And, even then, it gets awkward over a long study session. I get antsy easily from a lack of people talking around me.

  • I focus better with silence, but maybe that's because I was always a loner in college and bounced from friendship to friendship. I can focus with television on, but I am accustomed to silence and even though I write sometimes with music on I find it easier to focus without.

  • I grew up in a busy household, so I like having a little bit of sound going around me. I study with music, watch movies on my laptop while studying or making art. I prefer music mostly while I'm painting, it kind of amps me up and makes me excited. However, I don't mind silence either. I live on my own now, so silence is often what I get when I come through the door at night. My tv quit working almost six months ago (I don't miss it that much, really) so I've gotten used to hours of dead silence in my apartment while cleaning or preparing meals. I think there are benefits to both noise and silence in their appropriate places.

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