Thursday, 1 October 2009

Quiet or silent?

If you are not interested in what may appear to be the splitting of my cat hairs please stop reading now.
This is Meg Harper's fault. If you want to read about her rather interesting idea head over to her post yesterday on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. I am the one with the problem of an apparent difference between being quiet and being silent.
There is a poem by Pablo Neruda which begins,
"Ahora contaremos doce
y nos quedamos todos quietos"
Alastair Reid's translation of those words is
"Now we will count to twelve
And we will all keep still."
I do not know a lot of Spanish. "Quietos" apparently does mean "still" - but in the sense of "calm" or "placid" rather than "not moving". There is a difference. "Calm" and "placid" are words which suggest life. To remain still in that sense suggests meditation. "Still" in the sense of "not moving" suggests an absence of life.
For me there is also "quiet" and there is "silence". Quiet suggests that same "calm". Quiet suggests meditation. Quiet suggests a time for reflection, regrouping and renewal. Silence suggests an absence of any of these things, an absence of noise, a void. Quiet and silence can appear to be the same but, for me, "quiet" is valuable. Silence is not.
Silence is something more than the absence of speech or sound. It is a failure to act. It is a futile attempt to isolate ourselves. Quiet can still be alert. Quiet can be ready to act, or react. Quiet can be cooperation, a waiting for the right moment to participate.
There is nowhere on earth that nature is silent. Nothing can move silently.
Meh Harper asked, "Shall we keep silent?" No, I do not think so. We should perhaps keep quiet for a time so that we can reflect, regroup and renew. When we have done that we can come together. Quiet is life. Silence is death.


Meg Harper said...

Thanks, Cat! I'm about to go out and walk as I do as many mornings as I can - enjoying the quiet and trying to still my mind so I can think and pray! So I'm not going to a knee-jerk comment right now - but am much challenged by your ideas. Will think and get back to you in a bit. Really helpful to have your follow up and thoughts. If I'm going to try to do this thing I need to think it through very thoroughly.

catdownunder said...

Thankyou Meg. I need to think some more too.

Rachel Fenton said...

I think the humour in your post, Meg, really clashes with the plight that you are trying to highlight and do something about and seem, to me, to trivialise the issues. Your intentions are honourable and worthy but I do not think that "silence" is a way to achieve anything and is perhaps not what you are really aiming for. I think people would gladly participate in silence - as people do on remembrance Sunday in the UK - but how many of the voluntary silent really contemplate what it means? And how fewer actually do something which makes a difference? Wouldn't breaking the silence make more sense? Just a thought and not a criticism.

Meg Harper said...

OK - have done some thinking and for what it's worth these are my thoughts.

If nothing in nature is silent, then the world is nowhere and never silent and silence becomes a meaningless concept here on earth because we don't have it.

Death may be silent but I do not think that makes it powerless. Indeed I think there is great power in death. Christians argue that Jesus died for us - he also triumphed over death which in my view is more important but the dying still had power - it was about sacrifice for others. And other people have died for others and I think that has power. If we do not crack in the face of a bully or under torture (Guy Fawks, I believe, remained silent to the death even tho he was tortured for four days, refusing to give away his co-conspirators) that is powerful.

Yes, it is different from quiet - and I think that has a different sort of power and usefulness.

I was galvanised into a bit more action over this (it's been bugging me for ages) by the play at the Fringe 'In a 1000 pieces'. At the end, the audience was paralysed. No one moved or spoke for quite some time. It seemed like a crime to break the silence. So that silence had power. It wasn't quiet. It had more stillness than that.

I'm really thrilled by Penny's idea about the silent vigil of writers - will try to pursue it. It's silence with visual image and that is so important in this day and age.

I think it partly appeals because those enslaved have been stripped of all human dignity. And how do we often speak of silence? As a dignified silence.

Meg Harper said...

Another thought is that absence can be powerful. Is it Lysistrata where the women deny their men sex? And of course strikes are an obvious use of absence as power.

Kate said...

Interesting post. I am not sure if I agree but it made me think.

Kate x

Meg Harper said...

Humour, Rachel??? I'm puzzled.

Breaking the silence is also good, of course, but is used again and again. Currently there is a campaign called Breaking the Silence which is drawing attention to the dehumanizing experiences of conscripted Israeli soldiers. Doesn't seem to be having much impact to me but I may be wrong!

Holly said...

It is all too easy to remain silent, that is what has happened in too many places and lands.

The end results can be genocide, environmental disasters, wars.

Being quiet means that you are thinking and have not yet decided if/how you are going to act.

It is full of potential.

Silence leads to death.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

This has been a fascinating thread to follow. It's great that you expanded on it Cat.

catdownunder said...

Thankyou everyone. I'll see if I can take this a little further in the next post - and hope it will add to your ideas Meg.