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A Culture of Silence

sound life Nov 08, 2020

These days, I find my thoughts drifting back to the time when the spread of a virus started lockdowns all over the world, and the majority of people found themselves in sudden isolation. Now, a new round of lockdowns is underway all across Europe, and I feel a sense of déjà-vu. The streets are empty, the usual hustle and bustle of the weekdays are missing, and my steps on the pavement echo strangely in my ears.

 

The lockdowns have highlighted the importance of human connection, of social interaction and our ability to communicate. Staying in touch with each other, with family members, loved ones, friends, and colleagues is something that we tend to take for granted – until recently. These days, we experience a new kind of vulnerability with the realization that human connection is crucial for our emotional wellbeing. We find ourselves enduring periods of isolation we never knew before, and the future is uncertain - we might have to deal with similar challenges over and over again in the future.

To be cut off from our communities, and our ability to interact with each other causes us to experience anxiety, fear and depression. Why? Because we are used to perceiving ourselves through the mirror of someone else's reactions and opinions. Our social network provides context as well as validation, and without it, we don't really know who we are. Isolation deprives us of our sense of identity as well as our sense of safety and security.

 

Who am I when I am alone? Take a moment and really open yourself to this question. How does it make you feel?

This challenging time offers a huge opportunity for each and every one of us if we dare to face it. It is a chance to examine our beliefs about ourselves and the persona we have created to integrate into society. How much of what you show yourself to be is real, and how much is an illusion? How much of your communication is authentic? How much is based on coping mechanisms that you have internalized while growing up?

If you feel as if a giant abyss just opened up right in front of you, please know that you are far from alone. Navigating this dark uncertainty is part of life, and essential for your inner growth. Self-knowledge is one of the most significant powers there are, and it is absolutely vital for a happy life. If you don't know who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, your dreams and desires, you won't be able to choose your purpose and give direction to your life.

 

But before I introduce you to advanced techniques of self-exploration, like contemplation and internal dialogue, let's start small: observe your ways of expression and how you communicate externally. What do your words say about yourself? This is a potent tool, and if you can be honest, it will reveal many aspects of yourself that you were never aware of.

Keep in mind though, the person you need to be honest with, first and foremost, is you.

 

Let me give you some examples:

  1. You join a group of friends that are sitting and chatting together, gossiping and making fun of a shared acquaintance. You find yourself laughing along with them. Now ask yourself, what does that say about me? Do I dislike this person and the joking makes me feel superior? Do I feel lonely and long for the acceptance of the group, no matter the cost? Or is it merely that I feel uncomfortable and don't know how to react, so I am laughing to cover up my discomfort and insecurity?
  2. You are meeting someone for the first time and enter into a conversation. Now, observe your thoughts while you are talking; are you trying to guess what the other person would like to hear, and adjust your words and expressions accordingly? Are you testing out how best to unsettle or surprise your conversation partner – for example, by saying the opposite of what would be expected? Why do you say the things you say? Do you need the approval of others? Are you trying to get the upper hand in the conversation? Or are you trying to keep the other person at arm's length, unwilling to share your thoughts and opinions, at least until you know them better?
  3. How do you respond to compliments? Does a compliment make you smile and put a spring in your step? Do you get uncomfortable and deflect the praise? If so, why do you think that is? And how about complimenting someone else? Do you do it often or rarely? Spontaneously or out of tactical consideration, because you want something in return? Consider the reasons and motivations for either case – what does it tell you about your relationships, and more importantly, what does it show you about how you see yourself?

 

When you start observing yourself in that manner, you will begin to notice patterns in your behaviour, in your way of thinking and expressing yourself.

 

One of the most common realizations at this stage is: our communication is rarely authentic, and often superficial. There is a sense of disconnection between what we think and feel, and the words we speak. Our language, our habits of communication and self-expression are dominated by social norms and the expectations of our community. Communication has become mainly a tool for social integration, personal advancement and self-preservation. Genuine connections have become rare and are reserved for those who have earned our trust. Even with those closest to us, it is challenging to be authentic, because we fear to disappoint and lose their affection.

This is what I call "a culture of silence": when emotions and personal truth become disconnected from our self-expression, we can talk for hours without actually sharing much.

We are experiencing an unnoticed tragedy because our attempts to maintain our social ties result in the loss of heartfelt connection. This robs us of the ability to support each other effectively. The silence within our words and the emotional distance it creates push us further and further apart.

So, is it really surprising that mental health issues, anxieties and loneliness are spreading at such speed?

 

However, it doesn't have to be this way, we can still turn this ship around. As a first step, join my two-week challenge: for the coming two weeks, observe your communication and ask yourself the question "Why?" over and over again. Get to know yourself better, your motivations and intentions. And whenever you feel comfortable to do so, try a different way: see if you can align words and meaning more closely, and let your emotions shine through.

In two weeks, I will dive deeper into the subject of Naad Yoga as a science of communication, and I hope you will join me. All the best for the two-week challenge, may you be both brave and kind during your quest!

 

 

 

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