The Human Aversion to Silence

I recently took a day in Palo Duro Canyon with my wife and young son. Every time I step out of the car, the first thing that strikes me is the silence. With my son being 5, there wasn’t a good chance for the prolonged enjoyment of this silence, but there were a few times I tricked him into listening for a distant noise.

At one point we listened for a crow scavenging somewhere over the hill. When my son’s feet stopped moving and his mouth fell quiet, the silence pressed in on us—almost silence. Two sounds stood out: a plane some 30,000 feet overhead and a car approaching the canyon.

We resumed our hike. Our feet in the dirt sounded like six mouths chewing granola. Then would come a hum and rattle. Bikers. Our boy squealed as he jumped out of the way. Passing hikers greeted us with “Hello! Beautiful day!” Their voices slit the air.

I thought of a line from a Wendell Berry poem. He speaks of those “who come to enjoy the quiet by making noise in it.”

Humans are loud creatures. We prattle into silence and take no thought of what we disturb. Our raucous machines blister the ears of creation. When are they ever not whirring and growling in the distance? Even in the remotest canyon, human busyness mentions itself.

More than that, we humans have an aversion to silence. Most of us jump to fill in every lull in conversation. Why do we fear awkwardness? Most of us reach for our phones the moment we are alone. Why do we fear doing nothing? 

“Down time” really means entertainment time, and there’s nothing wrong with that on the surface. I just wonder if we’re missing out on something better, if we’re becoming incapable of appreciating the silence and what it can bring.

Only in silence can we reflect on who we are and where we’re going. Only in silence can we remember our purpose. Only in silence can we clear the way for spiritual health.

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