The Meaning of Silence

The Meaning of Silence

Silence is the act of staying quiet and refraining from making any type of noise. The world has a diversified set of cultures, and they have their interpretations of silence. According to Basso 69, the decision for an individual to speak is directly contingent to the character of their surroundings. This is proof that extra-linguistic factors are determinants of the use of speech. That is why there exist many remarks in our culture such as ‘no talking in church, and ‘don’t talk until you are introduced’ among others. Silence is the same across all cultures but it is the interpretation, and its effect on other people varies according to the context in which it occurs. For example, choosing not to speak during court proceedings is considered a sign of respect and politeness.

On the other hand, refusing to speak to a colleague is considered rude. In both these instances, silence is used, but the judgment is different on both occasions based on the context of the silence. This paper will discuss silence among Western Apache and Quakers by comparing the cultural, social, and political meanings of ‘giving up on words’ and ‘letting your words be few.’

The Western Apache has some situations where they deem it necessary to ‘give up on words.’ The first situation is when meeting strangers whom they have had no previous interaction with the Western Apache recommend refraining from speaking to them. This meeting of strangers can occur in a variety of physical settings but it mainly occurs in the context of events where large crowds of people attend such as rodeos, and fairs among others where chance encounters mostly tend to occur. Lack of verbal communication between strangers in large gatherings usually goes unnoticed but is more conspicuous in smaller groups of people. Talkative strangers in the Western Apache usually violate the convention if there is urgent need to make a request such as money with people thinking that talkative strangers are drunk. The Apache assumes that talkative Anglo strangers want to teach them something or make friends hurriedly. Western Apaches do not like to be hurried into friendships, even with echo other. Their silence towards strangers is a conviction of their beliefs on social relationships which is that they are serious matters that take time, caution and careful judgment (Basso 72).

Another situation where the Western Apache practice ‘give up on words’ is during courtship. During the early stages of dating young men and women go without speaking for lengthy periods. Courting tends to occur in a wide variety of settings but more so in public gatherings where it is readily observable. Basso research found out that their reluctance to talk to each other is even more pronounced when it is just the two of them in private. The Western Apache culture attributes this silence to shyness which is rooted in their unfamiliarity with each other (Basso 73). The Western Apache equate the frequency with which a young couple speaks to each other with how well they know each other. Protracted discussions are openly discouraged early in the relationship especially for the girls who are informed that silence in courtship is a form of modesty (Basso 74).

The Western Apache people maintain their silence during the reunion which describes encounters where individuals return home after long absences from their family members. However, it commonly occurs when their children come back home from boarding school. In the words of Basso (74), one would expect a flurry of verbal greetings on such occasions, but it is the opposite with silence between the parent and the child going on for even more than fifteen minutes. It is usually the child who breaks this silence with the parents listening intently to what they have to say. The silence between children and parents in Western Apache is determined by the effects of adverse effects on the children due to their experiences away from home. Western Apache parents fear that their children will be influenced by the Anglo attitudes and values and soon come to disrespect their parents and their culture. The parents maintain their silence as they wait for their children to open up about their experiences away from home. The Apache consider it inappropriate for a parent to interrogate a child after their arrival home no matter how pressing the concern might be. The child ought to divulge any information on his views, attitudes, and opinions without any prompting (Basso 76). The Western Apache culture advocates that individuals maintain their silence if they get ‘cursed out’ Angry people tend to lash out by saying things they would not usually say, which is why the aggrieved party has to keep silent. Angry people cannot be reasoned with, which means talking back makes the situation worse; thus, the reason for Western Apaches to maintain their silence in such circumstances (Basso 77).

The Apache maintain silence during the period of mourning as they believe this to be a sign of respect to those that have lost loved ones. Encountering people in grief can occur anywhere but such encounters ought to be marked by minimal amounts of silence. According to a native West Apache interviewed by Basso even in the interest of conveying condolences verbal communication is unnecessary as it only reinforces and augments the sadness felt by those close to the deceased Basso 78). People who are sad and mourning are prone to emotional outbursts and sometimes even violence which could be provoked by words, all the more reason to maintain silence during such times. During healing ceremonies, the Western Apache people are supposed to keep silence. These ceremonies tend to begin at night and come to an end before dawn and people are allowed to talk and engage with the patient, but it ceases once the medicine n begins to chant (Basso 80). Once the chanting commences, no one else ought to talk to the patient apart from the medicine man. However, it is essential to understand the Western Apache concept supernatural power to appreciate the explanation they offer for their silence during these ceremonies. They believe in a force that is angered by disrespect towards its source may retaliate by causing the offender to fall ill. Speech is considered disrespect during the ceremonies.

Quakers are members of a group which began in the 1650s and is rooted in Christianity. The formal title of the Quakers is the Society of Friends and or the Religious Society of Friends, and there are about 210,000 of them across the world. Just like the people of Western Apache, the Quakers also have their rules and regulations as for when to maintain silence. The first instance where Quakers keep silence is during worship.  The Quaker movement is rooted in Christianity, which means that prayer is a fundamental part of the movement. Quaker worship is seen as a form of reason communication between oneself and God, and for this to happen it requires a form of meditation, which occurs when it is quiet. Thus, Quakers maintain their silence for worship. In addition to silence being observed in prayer, the Quaker tradition is responsible for making silence a component of an individual’s spiritual practices. Historically Quakers have had some pragmatic approaches to silence such as it is a show of wisdom while speaking is folly. According to Bauman (23), the proliferation of words came with the danger of distraction from the spirit by increasing the Quaker’s engagement in worldly affairs. Silence for the Quakers was a means for them to attain the defining spiritual experience which is the direct personal experience of the spirit of God within oneself (Bauman 24). Quakers could feel the presence of God within them which they commonly referred to as an ‘inward light’ and the only way they could achieve this was by maintaining silence.

Quakers believe that the object of faith is God speaking to them, which is an honor for all Christians. However, to hear the voice of God speaking it is imperative to maintain pure silence. The Quaker believe that the voice of God speaks to those that are attentive to the inward light, also a byproduct of silence. Quakers believe that hearing the voice of God did not stop at whatever age and regarded scripture as tangible reports recorded by those God had spoken to (Bauman 28). The modern Quaker is of the view that silence fosters awe before the Almighty, it is an indicator of submission to God; it provides a posture for worship and gives freedom from noise and distraction. The Quaker movement is also of the opinion that silence is a condition required for tranquility, it sets the stage for prayer, it is a show of respect for other, and it renews the wonder the world. Finally, Quakers believe that silence provides sacred space and prepare for effective social witnessing. It is therefore essential to learn the meaning of silence among different cultures since it is as important if not more important than verbal communication itself.


Works Cited

Basso, Keith H. “to Give Up on Words”: Silence in Western Apache Culture. Andover, Mass:     Warner Modular Publications, 1973. Print.

Bauman, Richard. Let Your Words Be Few: Symbolism of Speaking and Silence Among     Seventeenth-Century Quakers. Tucson, Ariz: Wheatmark, 2009. Print.

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