Friday, February 22, 2013

Thoughts on silence...

One of the things I have found interesting on this journey is discovering which friends have the courage to 'go there' and have the hard discussions with you when life is tough - and which friends retreat into silence.

I know that most people who stay silent do so because they don't know what to say or they fear saying the wrong thing.  The problem with staying silent is that without realising it - or even intending it - silence says something loud and clear.

Staying silent refuses to acknowledge the reality of what someone is going through.  Silence gives a resounding message - one that pretty much says I don't want to know what you're going through.

The more insidious problem with silence though is that it also gives the message 'Don't talk about it'  to someone who is struggling.

Don't talk about what's really going on.  

It's not OK to tell it like it is.  

Regardless of whether you speak or stay silent the person's situation still exists.  It is what it is whether it is acknowledged or not.  Other people may feel very differently to me, but I think it is better to speak than to stay silent.  Obviously that is not a hard and fast rule because there have been a few awful things people have said to me over the years - but aside from those who are truly clueless - I think it is better to say something.

Acknowledge what is really going on.

Give people permission to speak if they wish.

Don't judge if they say outrageous things while they are processing their thoughts.

Be gracious.

But most of all - don't be silent.


Missy said...

Hope you know that I will always have the courage to go there with you and vice versa. I thank god for you. I hope everything is okay x

Alison said...

Thanks Missy. Everything is OK (well as OK as it ever is). I have been thinking about this issue for awhile and have had several conversations today with friends going through hard times of their own and am aware that when we don't allow people to talk about what is really going on we are adding to their burden.

Susan, Mum to Molly said...

The people who stay silent make me SO ANGRY.

In my head I'm screaming this at them:

I'm the one living it - the least you can do is string two f@cking words together!

Any two words. Even just "I'm sorry." will do.

What is WRONG with people??

The Trousdell Five said...

Yes yes yes. Silence is inexcusable. Whether or not it's what people intend, it comes across as "I don't care". Saying something, even if a bit bumbling and unsure of ones self, is MUCH better than nothing at all.

Rachael said...

I follow your journey regularly on this blog, thanks to my connection to your sister. May I dare to say, I disagree? There are times to speak, and times to remain silent, and I was pushed to reflection by realising that Job's friends earned their rebuke in speaking about things they had no knowledge of. I am a talker by nature, but if I remain silent at times, it is an attempt at humility, not fear or ambivalence. Or have I misunderstood your post?

mamafrag said...

I am silent in stress. I am very aware of other people's privacy and don't ask beyond the moment: are you ok? Or : can I help?
Really close friends I will call out on a glib "I am fine". Others I let them know I am thinking about them. I am a shoulder sqweezer, eye contact making coffee bringing friend. I will not start the conversation, but will not stop someone who needs an ear. I think if old testament Job's friends sat with him quietly they would have seemed like better friends...

Alison said...

Rachael - I guess the point I was trying to make is that when people are completely silent they are failing to acknowledge what someone is going through. Job's friends came and sat in silence with him for a week before they spoke - they acknowledged his situation - so I suppose for me it is the acknowledgement that is most important thing, and words are not the only way to do that.

Mamafrag - all those things you mentioned actually speak volumes in acknowledging that someone is having a tough time and that you are there for them.

Heda said...

From someone who speaks too much, sometimes it can be hard to find the right things to say that will not hurt someone or be misinterpreted. Are any words better than silence? Is boots and all better than saying nothing? I often wonder because saying the wrong thing al beit with the best of intentions is rather high on the list of things that I do!
And now to pass the posting test when cognitive function is seriously decayed!!!

Alison said...

I think a bumbling attempt at saying something is better than saying nothing at all - but that's just me. Others may feel very differently!

All the people who have agreed strongly with this post though have been mums of kids with special needs - so maybe that says something too??

Heda said...

Woo hoo. If well intended bumbling is OK then we're good. That's a relief because I enjoy your blog and am a regular visitor. You write really well and the kids are great so I'll happily keep commenting.

Jenn Manuel said...

I totally agree and remember writing something about this is my blog after Jessica had passed away.
When people are going through difficult times it is hard to know what the right thing to say is...well there is no right thing, and more often then most people probably won't always make you feel better, but at least they found the courage to try. Trying is caring, silence is just being a coward and taking the easy way out. Too much silence is how relationships end.

ines said...

I can so so so relate to this beautiful post, and i couldn't agree more. It takes courage to speak, even to say a few words, but remaining silent is the easy way out of an uncomfortable situation (and makes you feel like if you are "contagious" in your sorrow or in your troubles...or at least that's the way it makes me feel. Thanks for writing this, you write beautifully about meaningful things