“Sometimes we talk simply for the sake of hearing ourselves talk…The activity gives us a pleasant sense of being alive…In all this, the significance of the words used is almost completely irrelevant.” -S.I. Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action. Ch. 6, The Language of Social Cohesion
Mindless talking for the sake of talking? Guilty as charged. If there is a silence, I must fill it. Recently, a friend jokingly commanded me to not talk and just nod in agreement with whatever he said. I probably made it thirty seconds…he didn’t say anything, so I had to say something.
When I called Michael tonight, I didn’t have much to say. Neither did he, yet we talked for at least a half hour. I’d be left feeling lonely and shafted if the call had been any shorter. Not because either of us had anything worth saying, just because it’s the only way we “hang out” when we’re apart in our separate cities. I’m a storyteller. I do it to Meredith all the time. I reiterate things that I already told her on Facebook. I recall stories about things we’ve done or said…which she obviously knows about. I tell everyone pointless stories about my unremarkable life and the goings-on of friends and acquaintances.
Am I hopelessly self-absorbed? Do I really think people are interested in the intricacies of my hum-drum existence?
It’s not a unique habit. Don’t most people talk for the sake of talking? It’s a way of reaffirming that we are not alone. We share common human experiences, common language, a common sense of community. We interact because we care about other people, and we need them to care about us. Our empty small-talk and mindless ramblings are an easy source of unity and comfort in an uncertain world.
We’re in love with noise, but silence is good sometimes. It’s kind of nice to sit here alone in my room in the dark, sipping a mudslide after a long night of class, meeting, and work. But how much silence is there, really? Am I alone with my thoughts? My laptop is singing to me. With over 3,000 songs in my iTunes library, I can escape true silence for 8 days straight without repeating a song. And here I am, writing a blog, casting out a line in search of a (somewhat artificial) conversation with readers. I love comments. Sometimes I even consider a blog post a failure if it garners no comments.
When finish this entry, I will shut my laptop, read my Bible, then lay in bed enveloped in darkness. Surely I will be in silence then. But my mind won’t allow it. Past conversations will replay in my thoughts. Future conversations will be laid out. I even formulate fictional conversations centered around scenarios that will certainly never play out. I have no idea why. When I fall asleep, my brain will instantly initiate dream sequences that I will almost always remember the next morning. My dreams are far more complex than my reality; full of action, detail, conflict, and noise.
Maybe I’m afraid of silence. Afraid I’ll miss something. Afraid to be left alone for too long. Or maybe my mind and mouth have simply forgotten how to be still.