On Silence and The ‘Other’

Jun 6, 2014 | Field Notes

It has been windy here on the coast for the last few days. There is normally a noticeable breeze almost every day, usually at dusk or at the changing of the tides. But, these past few days we’ve had gentle breezes flowing back and forth across the city throughout the day. I suppose it is further evidence of the transition from spring to summer, a transition that is longer here than in the east. It is all quite pleasant and although we expect rainy days soon enough, it is nice to be able enjoy these gentle breezes. What I particularly appreciate is when the breezes die down and become almost imperceptible, when stillness arrives, a stillness that creates a silence that seems to draw all things to itself.

I have been pondering the role of stillness and silence as I’ve followed the clashes that occur between people, between cultures, between countries. It seems that the energy that lies deep within the reservoirs of diversity often gets expressed loudly and indiscriminately. This easily leads to conflict with the end results being that it is very difficult to ‘hear’ the ‘other’, to really listen to their story, whether it is personal or collective. Often I end up hearing the noise rather than the person. The result is that the relational slips away and I am left alone in my own worldview.

That is why it is all the more important that I take time to be alone and to listen and quiet myself so that I may better hear the ‘other’. One way I do this is to go for long walks. For as long as I can remember I have taken long walks in order to be quiet and to ponder. During these times of quiet I am better able to sift through what I have ‘heard’ or ‘seen’ from the ‘other’ and discern how I might be able to respond or be in relationship with the ‘other’. It’s not a perfect practice, but it is one that helps me to live in this multifaceted world of ours.

Recently I finished reading a small book by Jacques Derrida called ‘Adieu To Emmanuel Levinas’ based on his commemorative talks in honour of Levinas’ life and his contribution to philosophy. It’s a real gem of a book. At one point Derrida describes the importance of silence:

“Without silence…we would simply unfold knowledge into a program or a course of action. Nothing could make us more irresponsible; nothing could be more totalitarian.” (Adieu, p. 117)

It seems to me that Derrida and Levinas have their fingers on the importance of silence in helping us to live lives of responsible social engagement. Without silence in which to listen to God, to my deeper self, and to the ‘others’ in my midst, I simply risk continuing deep-seeded conflicts; rolling over long held hurts and grievances; and speaking past the ‘other’ rather than with the ‘other’. For me silence is a key element in a socially engaged spirituality.

As I finish this post the sun is quickly going down and the breeze is slowing at the changing of the tide. Now it is time for a walk.

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