The other day I was out on one of my nocturnal cycling trips. Having reached the destination, a secluded beach, I found myself a nice quiet spot to sit down and unwind. I began to meditate on the serenity of the silence occasionally broken by the pleasant sound of waves crossing onto the shore, thinking about nothing in particular, when a rather loud group of people broke the tranquility of the scene. I did not pick up what they were chattering about, since they all seemed to be speaking together without any significant pauses. It got me wondering – why are we always so eager to speak and so reluctant to listen when others speak?
I consider speaking to be a form of art, not unlike painting. A speaker feels something and chooses to express the feelings through his speech. He tries to evoke the same feelings in you through his speech. A good speaker is one who manages to get the intended feelings across without any misunderstandings or ambiguities. And yet I believe speaking differs fundamentally from painting.
To me, the biggest difference between the two art forms lies in where the painting takes place. All of painter’s tools – the colors, the brushes and and the canvas – lie right in front of him. He is free to do with them whatever he pleases. The same liberty is denied to the speaker. The tools here do not lie with the speaker, but with the listener. The speaker merely dictates while the listener, the actual painter, has at his disposal the colors of his own experiences, the brushes of his own judgment and the canvas of his own imagination to paint his own picture.
Words are merely a guide to the listener. And quite an unreliable one at that. The speaker wants to express something profound, cobbles up a brief approximation of what he feels using whatever limited vocabulary he possesses and speaks it out loud. His intended feeling, thus deflated and depleted of it’s essence, piggybacks on these words which travel through the physical world, subject to all of it’s chaos and noise, reach the listener’s ears and are intercepted by his brain. His brain registers the sound and begins the process of inflating the words back. But the essence of the feeling that was lost in transit though the narrow conduits of our language, the magic that was vaporized while burning through the pathways of our vocabulary, makes the words sound hollow to the listener. So his brain paints them up with it’s own tools and tries to recreate the lost magic.
Silence is the best part of any conversation. As long as words are being spoken back and forth, the real feelings and emotions they intend to convey keep getting slaughtered. Silence offers a chance to recollect and rearrange. A chance to pick up the strewn bits and pieces lying around from the obscene onslaught of words. The listener will still paint them up using his own experiences and judgments. But now, given the time, he will use the best possible combination of colors, the right shades of judgments to breathe life back into the words. He will use the time to draw the best possible curves, curves that reach out the listener and make him yell with joy, “That is exactly what I meant!”