In recent months there have been some posts making the rounds on Facebook and other social media that paint a disturbing picture of the state of today’s youth. A series of pictures will appear that show young people in a variety of different environments from lunch at the cafeteria, to couples on dates, to people gathered for a family dinner. In each of these pictures the youth are seen glued to their I-phones, I-pads or other electronic devices, seemingly in their own world and oblivious to the people around them.
The message these photos appear to be conveying is that today’s youth are increasingly shunning the art of face to face conversation and interaction with friends and loved ones in favor of tuning in to the latest music, movies, gossip and any other mass media they can get their hands on. Sometimes it does seem as if today’s youth are obsessed with ingesting every last drop of mass media they can possibly process and store within their memory and more important, sub-consciousness.
Is the problem of young people seemingly disengaging themselves from direct human contact in favor of feasting on mass media just a recent phenomenon? I think not. When I was a teenager in the 1970s, we didn’t have Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and all these other forms of communication and data sharing. However we did have our own mass media which by today’s standards would seem primitive. Let me tell you, to set the record straight, us baby boomers who are now parents concerned with our children’s obsession with mass media were just as fixated on this stuff. I will always remember laughing at my best friend in high school who would sit in his basement reading a book, listening to the Beatles on his stereo and watching a baseball game, all at the same time! I had another friend in high school who was known to lock himself in his room for 48 hours straight to watch as many James Bond movies as that two day period would allow. And yours truly was no saint. Often I would seclude myself in my parents’ basement for hours on end just listening to as many LP records as time would allow.
It seems that as people we crave our privacy yet at the same time can’t stand the silence that accompanies privacy. We’ve all heard the phrase “silence is golden” and yet we’ve also heard people remark for example at a comedy show where the entertainer bombed “the silence was deafening.” As the latter statement would indicate we seem to be adverse to silence and that is too bad.
I believe that the greatest source of our fear of silence is that when things get real quiet we feel compelled to think. As the 18th century British artist and philosopher Joshua Reynolds pointed out “There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.”
We are uncomfortable with silence. Maybe we don’t want to think. When it gets real quiet we turn on a television or a radio and let other peoples’ thoughts enter into our stream of conscious. We shun the blessed gift of thinking in favor of letting other actors, singers and the like think for us. Unfortunately we may not realize that in the process of this we are actually numbing our senses not improving them. The media has a way of making us think that the people who entertain us are actually more interesting than ourselves. That’s a shame. What’s worse is that this can often alter our view of reality. I often contemplate how the burgeoning selection of reality shows is portraying a “reality” that is really only a reality for a select few people, in most cases those we refer to as the “one percent.” These shows in particular have made me rethink a position I took long ago with an acquaintance of mine. This man, a father of two young children told me he had no televisions in his house. Back in the late 1990s, I thought his position was rather extremist. Today I think he may have been on to something.
Why do we fear the silence then? According to a May 14, 2014 BBC Future article entitled “How Extreme Isolation Warps the Mind” http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140514-how-extreme-isolation-warps-minds “We all want to be alone from time to time to escape the demands of our colleagues or the hassle of crowds. But not alone alone. Prolonged social isolation is all bad, particularly mentally.” This article observed how experiments placing people in prolonged situations of isolation or even the more extreme state known as sensory deprivation often had disastrous results. People would hear noises and see things that weren’t real.” The conclusion was that when things get real quiet we get real crazy.
Conversely, an article entitled “The Power of Silence” appearing on a website called “Advanced Life Skills” http://advancedlifeskills.com/blog/the-power-of-silence/ extols the many virtues of silence. Says the writer, “Silence has an energy to it like no other source. It has the power to get people to think, and act, it can help slow the mind down and it is a powerful ally in the likes of counseling and life coaching.”
This article further explains five instances (although there are many more) where silence can be helpful. They are:
- · During arguments. The best way to diffuse your opponent’s fury and sense of righteousness is to say nothing at all. Also prevents escalation to violence.
- · Gossiping. When someone is gossiping you are better to not perpetuate the gossiping by doing so yourself and you are better not to acknowledge a gossiper’s comments with comments of your own.
- · When someone else is talking. It’s been said that God gave us two ears and one mouth so we would listen more than we speak. Being a good listener will make you a valuable friend.
- · When the house is empty. This should be cherished quiet time where you can be alone with your thoughts and organize your life as well as reflect on it.
- · Quiet reflection 15 minutes per session twice per day. If the aforementioned opportunity doesn’t present itself you should make quiet time to gather your thoughts.
If you are one of those people who can’t bear the thought of standing in a crowded elevator immersed in the silence that you typically find there, I recommend you try to practice just sitting alone for brief periods basking in the silence. When I was just thirteen years old I was in the Boy Scouts. We had an award known as “The Order of the Arrow.” Scouts were taken to a camp and fed only bread and water for two days. For two nights, each scout had to sleep out under the stars in the dark woods with the next nearest scout being some 500 feet away. On top of this scouts were not permitted to talk for two days. Obtaining that award gave me a great sense of accomplishment and discipline.
Maintaining silence can require discipline. Discipline can lead to success in many avenues of life.
Remember, someday if you are in a chatty gathering remaining quiet and someone asks you that annoying question “Cat got your tongue?”, you might reply “No, I just think you do enough blabbing for the both of us.” And then add “Yadayadayada.”