One of the most preferable states is silence — or should be, if quiet reflection and focused attention were as highly rated as they ought to be. Our attitudes to silence, however, are ambivalent.

Continuous noise can spoil concentration, irritate and make us nervous; this makes many long for silence, thirsting for getting rid of the unordered sounds we are exposed to (which have a tendency to mercilessly grab our attention, eating away our mental energy) — and the relieving effect is in fact tremendous when all sound suddenly stops. Deep silence, on the other hand, seems to have a disturbing effect on some (and especially in social contexts it can be quite meaningful when everybody refuses to talk). As with many things related to sound and hearing, silence interacts with the weight of time: its effect seems to build up and increase with its duration. The same applies to noise, of course; the overwhelming desire to escape is probably the reason for attempts to drown it in loud music streamed in via earphones, as we can observe people doing every day in crammed train cars or in the busy streets of our cities. (Although that only seems to replace one sort of noise with another, there is some attraction to the idea: at least this makes it an ordered soundtrack that fills our ears, and one of our own choosing.)

If there is such a variety in what we feel about silence at different times, we should make a fine distinction. The external circumstance, silence, may be congruent or not with the inner condition of calmness, of harmony within your thoughts and feelings, of being focused and capable of remaining so and keep on track with the paths of action you've chosen. Calmly following through with what you have decided is best is not merely more successful (usually), it also brings a feeling of satisfaction and generally relieves from tensions and nervousness. But it doesn't stem from external conditions, such as silence; it's often rather the other way round: being able to keep focus among turmoil and noise is a sign of strength of character and a well trained, focused mind. Although complicated environments can be trying for anybody in this respect, it's not true that this ability depends on silence and more friendly conditions. And as we have seen, the converse does hold as well: silence itself can be both conducive and obstructive; whether it makes you nervous or helps to concentrate has more to do with yourself than with what goes on around you. Take care.
Copyright © 2007-2012 by Leif Frenzel. All rights reserved.