Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Unspoken Silence

By: Yuet Ng

All my life I’ve heard others remark on how quiet I am as if it were a flaw.

“Speak up!” my teachers would say. Or, “Not much of a talker, are you?” from my co-workers. They don’t say that just because I’m Asian (the stereotype that Asian girls are quiet and meek), but because I just don’t talk very often. I guess it has a little to do with how my parents have taught me to keep my thoughts to myself and not cause waves. However, what a lot of people don’t understand is that I have nothing to say. No, really. I could rack my brains to spew some nonsensical bullshit at the appropriate intervals of a conversation, but that’s a colossal waste of effort, not to mention my brainpower. Why do I need to talk? Is there a rule that says I can’t just sit back and listen to others do all the dialogue? They seem to have so much to say why not let them instead of interjecting some of my thoughts?

More than that, I prefer to keep vocally silent. I don’t mean that I don’t express myself, because I do. Maybe more than is good for me, through written words. But when I’m with other people, I like to keep quiet. Call me a wallflower or call me passive aggressive if you will, but I have a philosophy on this. I firmly believe that when people are so busy talking, they tend to miss what’s going on around them. So much is coming out of their mouths that not enough is going into their ears.

While people around me are so immersed in putting in their two cents, I’d rather take that time to observe those people. I like to listen to their voices, the sensuality of it, the timbre, the tone, and the emotion underlying the words… all these nuances. I listen for what is unspoken, the thoughts behind the conversation.

I watch their expressions, the almost unnoticeable stiffness of one person’s jaw when he becomes annoyed with another person’s careless words. I glimpse the way fingers are tapping on a table because he wants to leave the conversation though his tone is warm and cheerful. I perceive the strain in a person’s voice as he talks about something he’d rather not discuss but is too polite to tell others to back off. I like to watch for these cues. I find them more intriguing than the topics people yap about.

I also believe that everyone has a role. Just as there are leaders and followers, givers and receivers, so are there listeners and speakers. Some people are blessed with the ability to think quickly on their feet and discharge witty rejoinders at the blink of an eye. They are outgoing and like to have the rapt attention of an audience. Others are like me. My mind doesn’t work rapid-fire to keep a conversation going. If it’s about to die into awkward silence, I let it. I don’t frequently speak out my thoughts, I save it until I’m ready to share it with others when I write. But don’t misunderstand me. I’m not mute either. I simply choose which vehicle to get my thoughts across. All I’m saying is that there is room in this universe for both types of people. Makes life more interesting that way.

Since we’re on the subject of being quiet, I must admit that I don’t like making chitchat. Actually I don’t like to make conversation with many people because I feel like I’m using up so much energy in doing so, energy that could be put to better use in other activities. It’s such a frigging waste of time and effort to talk to someone that I don’t really want to talk to. Like when I walk from my workplace to the garage after work and a co-worker happens to be leaving at the same time. Why must the silence between us be interrupted by obligatory small talk? I don’t feel like thinking. I find it tiresome to have to search my brain for some stupid pleasantries. I have just spent a huge part of my day staring at the computer doing work. I don’t want to force my synapses from its zombie-like state to work again.

I enjoy silence. I also enjoy solitude. I guess that’s why I like taking 3-hour walks alone. Actually, I even find it tiresome to have to smile when I don’t feel happy. Besides, given the stuff I write about with such unabashed, lethal honesty, I think people should think twice about asking me to speak more.

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