At Friday night Shabbat services last week, the Cantor (who was filling in for the rabbi) read a sermon prepared by Rabbi Ben Spratt. While the sermon eventually focused on the torah portion for the week, it started off discussing silence or more specifically, the extreme lack of it. Everywhere we go, every moment of the day, we hear “noise.”  The sermon noted that from the moment we wake up via the alarm on our phone or on our clocks or via the sound of our smartphone pinging with e mails and texts, to the time we go to sleep, we are surrounded by sound. We hear sounds/music on the television, from speakers on buses, in subway and metro stations, on trains, in elevators, in malls, and in stores. We hear the sounds of automobiles, trucks, buses etc. driving down the street. We hear the sounds of construction workers all around us.  When we walk, we are tuned into a telephone conversation, podcast or music. (Frequently, while walking my dogs, I see others “plugged” into their phones.  Rarely, do I see someone just walking, looking around enjoying nature! Sometimes, they are so “plugged” in that as they cross the street, they fail to see oncoming traffic!)  Everywhere one turns, there is sound so much so, that some folks use “white noise” to block out the sound!

As the sermon then noted, the French philosopher Blaise Pascal pointed out that “all of  humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

With this thought in mind, the sermon notes that silence points both to what comes to us and to what comes out of us. Thus, we are afraid of silence because we are forced to hear things that we try so hard to drown out: we are forced to listen to ourselves and to come to terms with ourselves!  With whom we really are!

In fact, the sermon noted that one study revealed that people are so afraid to be alone with their thoughts, they would rather inflict an electric shock on themselves than to sit silently alone with their thoughts for fifteen minutes! (See: People would rather be electrically shocked than left alone with their thoughts at p. 2)

This sermon struck me because silence is a very powerful tool. I often use it as a tool in a mediation to find out what is driving the dispute. Because most people do not want to be forced to listen to their inner thoughts and thus their true selves, they cannot tolerate more than a few seconds of silence. So, if I as the mediator, ask a question or make a statement, I will follow up with silence. I will NOT say anything more to fill the void. What I find is that the other party will do so; say something to fill that void and often what the party says goes to the heart of the matter. The party will say what is really on her mind- her deepest concerns and issues. Thus, in this way, I can quickly learn what a party’s needs, issues, concerns, fears et cetera really are. Simply … by asking a question and then saying nothing, I can learn quite a lot and perhaps enough to help the parties resolve the matter!

By such silence, I am  forcing a party to come to terms with herself and with what this dispute really means to her. Because there is no “noise”, she is being forced “… to sit quietly in the room…” and think! (Id.)

Isn’t that awesome?

Just something to think about!




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