A question that has been on my mind for quite some time now: why are we so afraid to embrace silence? Why is it so hard to do? In a society that constantly empathises less and less with humanity and world conflict, are we afraid to feel? Are we numb? Does silence benefit or enhance our thinking, or does the space and time to breathe solely serve to distract us from our ultimate objectives in life?
Looking around I find that people have great difficulty with the notion of silence (including myself). As I sit in the library, or on the bus, and even at dinner, I see people on their phones. People typing away at their computers, and phones – mainly phones; everyone is so distracted! Pointless conversations about who did what, and who ate what where, when what we really are avoiding is reality.
The truth is, we have little time to reflect on our actions, passions and ambitions, let alone the time to create meaningful relationships. Matthew Arnold, a renowned Victorian poet would call our modern-day climate as it is right now, the ultimate “disease”. In his poetry Arnold often expresses the issues arising from nineteenth-century industrialisation in England, the beginnings of capitalism, echoing the need for honesty and truth, which under capitalism is not possible. In a world obsessed with power, economic value, and the commodification of human labour, it is clear that the human experience is constantly being cannibalised by structures that make it seem like it’s perfectly okay. But it’s not! We are being silenced and pushed away without our knowing, for the mere benefit of large corporations; ironically it is not the kind of silence that should be embraced.
I went to a talk the other day, a talk which encouraged student activism. It was led by a member from the University of London cleaning staff, who for decades has been working for the University of London. The conditions imposed on him, and others like him sounded appalling. These people have recently been occupying the streets of London, sacrificing wages, fighting for basic human rights, like pension funding, and paid vacation and sick leave. In other words, these people are fighting for basic human rights; a stability in their work environment. The speaker referred to these conditions as “modern day slavery”, suggesting that people like him are being insensitively exploited by large companies and organisations, who have it in their personal interest only to obtain the lowest price for the highest quality or return. Firms don’t care about worker’s rights or their wellbeing, and that is so wrong! Humans should not be regarded as commodities – these are not the kind of relationships that we should be encouraging in the 21st Century!
We need a different kind of silence in order to be able to reflect on the things that really matter; human exploitation, modern slavery, our relationships with other human beings, and most importantly, the truth (if there is such a thing). These are the things that we lack on a day-to-day basis. I do it too. All the time. I try to fill up valuable time with senseless ramblings – most of the time I talk nonsense. It’s a universal problem and one that is most evident, even encouraged, by the media – which serves to feed us one distraction after the other, gossip and propaganda.
I read an article in The Independent, which argued that Obama is using Miley Cyrus to distract America from its real problems. And although it sounds absolutely ridiculous, maybe it’s true! I don’t mean to imply that Obama is explicitly using Miley to divert America’s attention from the political and economic instability of his country to the “twerkings” of Ms.Cyrus, but what I am saying is that perhaps the media does have a certain control over us; it manipulates information in order to make certain things seem more important or attractive than what it is in reality. At the same time it covers up information without our consent. We need to be able to recognise what the media is doing, the biases, and not let ourselves be distracted by them.
Has facebook become the platform for all of our meaningful relationships? Facebook is in many ways just like any other media – in it you can edit, shape and reshape your conversations and information. You can also hide things from your timeline just in case a post or image will reflect badly on you…. It’s all a game, and most of us are really buying into it!
Therefore, the more appropriate question: can we take a moment to acknowledge what is going on in the world? Or are the only silences left the rotten ones? Are we being silent about the things that really matter in life? And are honest relationships still possible in our current climate?
The most precious gift is not rooted in monetary value, but valuing people we meet and share our lives with. I find that not being able to express what I feel, and that not finding the time to tell people that they truly matter is something that I struggle with every day, and I see it as a universal problem! Distractions around us, like Facebook, twitter, snapchat, instagram, as well as the more serious ones, human exploitation (borderline slavery), are definitely not helping the situation. So let us bring back and fight for the golden silences. We’re being possessed by these awful distractions and we need to realise that it is costing valuable lives and meaningful relationships.