Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The sound of silence

Various chairs scrape backwards making that horrible rasping sound that is usually heard just before break time when all of the kids are deperate to leave. The pre-break tension that can be felt, almost tangible when thirty or so small kids are getting ready to rush out to break time and to be with their friends, a ball and fifteen minutes of adult free play time.

Although this time we aren't in a school classroom. No chalk dust is creating motes to distract the absent-minded Monday morning student as their thoughts of the weekend buzz over the steady monotonous drone of the teacher. This time we are in an office somewhere in Spain, near a town square and the seconds are ticking down before all the town members are gong to gather below and be quiet for sixty seconds (something which is sufficiently rare in Spain to cause an anti-commotion in itself). So the chairs all start scraping back, people start shutting down their computers, making a few jokes with the other office workers near them, make a slow exit for the door so as not to be late for the important demonstration of solidarity that is about to be given amongst all the various townsfolk for one reason or another. After probably fifteen minutes of getting everyone together the cameras are rolling, the people are assembled, the serious faces are ready for television and we all make a wonderful collective effort not to sneeze or sometimes even breathe for sixty seconds. Before anyone is readily aware of it, the sixty blissful seconds of silence are over and everyone is slowly grumbling back to their desks to continue the morning's work. Start up their computers and start trying to get the brain back into the mood to actually start working, to try and get the papers in for the monthly review, to try and get that report finished or to start selling the fruit to those busy villagers that never seem to get anywhere fast.

Here is where our story ends and our comment begins, here is where the beauty of the moment is examined and inspected on this most impersonal platform with the worryingly thought that something is wrong.

An expression, a shout in a silent room, a sudden burst of gore in a cartoon-like film about bunnies is shocking enough to jolt the watcher into action, to make them take notice, to make them listen and pay attention to what is around them. From accounts I have read on the various wars and that family, friends and acquaintances have told me about, all have said that silence after bursts of intense conflict are very inmpressive, that they have huge impact on everyone because it almost feels supernatural. After the chaos of moments before, all of a sudden there is a rush of nothingness that wraps itself around them like a self-satisfied snake taking away its victim; thus the idea of a great silence has impact. People rather seem to have taken to the idea, and now the de-rigueur is to hold a moment's silence for almost any tragic event; Something which could be argued to have rendered the whole thing pointless.

It has started to infuriate me to see people organising these silences for all and any worthy cause, not because of the act itself, but because of the vacuous nature it encompasses. If people wat to do something for these causes that really stands out then they could donate the money from the near hour that they are away from their desk to make this public show to charity. They could volunteer for a charity organisiation. or even start to talk to their neighbours to give more of a community feeling to the place they live. The overuse of anything renders it toally useless, and the worrying thing about the minute's silence is precisely that. It has become a vacuous act of self gratification that something useful is being done towards actually helping people in dire straits, people with genuine problems. My silence isn't going to put a homeless man back in a house, it sin't going to put back together the life of a domestic violence victim, it isn't going to have any effect whatsoever on anything other than making the place a bit quieter for five minutes.


It could be argued that the time for specualtion and procrastination is over, we have become a click-happy generation of empty sentiment. If you want change then make it, silently or otherwise, and that act will make far more sound in the darkness than the sound of an empty gesture aimed at no one.