The costs of silence

Most of our lives are virtual at this moment. The lucky share homes with partners, kids, pets. The less lucky reach out via phone, text, email, Zoom. Some look out the window and wave at those who pass by. It’s great when someone waves back. It can hurt when one’s entreaties for contact result in silence.

Silence is the worst response, on a strictly personal basis. We learn this before we can roll over on our own. Parents may be biting their tongues in the other room so you can learn to toughen up. Deep inside, you learn to cry louder until you cry yourself to sleep.

The silences build over time: the teacher who claims not to see your raised hand. The job applications that never get a response. Unanswered emails and calls, or the turned backs after a cry for help — a plea that your pleas be heard — feel like a dis, a means of telling you that your questions are worthless, that you and your entire way of approaching life just aren’t worth an answer. You’re not good enough. Worse, you’ve failed.

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No one likes to fail.

And then you find you’ve done or are doing the same to others. Your wife asks why you haven’t heard her. Your kid mentions how often he’s had to ask the same question over and over. The person seeking information from you wonders why you haven’t answered their calls, texts, and emails. The city explodes with anger.

We all get busy. We all feel overcrowded by communications. We get annoyed, generally and more specifically. We act defensively, self-justify and then self-pity.

These are never-ending cycles. We can only do our best to escape them. We can only do our best, and then try to do better.

Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.