I am turning my attention to silence, especially its vital role in conversations that are fulfilling and connecting. My academic friends, Creighton Professors Samantha Senda-Cook and Jay Leighter, helpfully directed me to various initial resources, including Keith Basso’s 1970 essay, “To Give up on Words”: Silence in Western Apache Culture.
While the scenarios for silence and the common attributes being identified within them in that study are intriguing, I was amused, especially, in recognizing in these experiences from four decades ago the overly hasty side of Anglo culture towards intimacy. As Keith Basso observed:
“If the stranger is an Anglo, it is usually assumed that he “wants to teach us something”… or that he “wants to make friends in a hurry”… The Western Apache verbal reticence with strangers is directly related to the conviction that the establishment of social relationships is a serious matter that calls for caution, careful judgment, and plenty of time.”
In contemporary culture, it is the immediate use of first name terms that irritates me. When I started my career in the late 1980s, all communications (verbal and written) were between “Mr. Chittenden” and “Mr./Mrs. X.” When we reached that invisible tipping point to first names, we had covered a lot of professional ground together, often as adversaries. I am slightly troubled, now, at the use of first names, as it leaves no further journeying space towards the intimacy of friendship. It is as if we all must be friends from the start.
This inauthentic treatment of our developing relationships is technologically amplified by the edifices of deceit evinced by Facebook and other social platforms. If we are unwilling to navigate our way towards knowing another person, with the inherent challenges of that mutual exploration, we diminish our ability to enjoy silence and to realize its rewards.