Monday, April 28, 2008

Quiet on the Set

This weekend I heard a fellow on the radio make the intriguing observation that all communication is self-serving. I was just starting to mull over the notion as he went on to explain, at length, how this insight led him to regularly spend the weekend not speaking with his wife or life partner or some such. He was still rattling on about his retreats of silence when I parked the car and turned off the radio.

It strikes me that, in his case at least, communication does seem to be self-serving. Communicating this idea to his wife got him whole weekends at a time free of the hassle of having to talk to people and, more important perhaps, being talked to by people. Communicating the ironic notion of a retreat of silence got him on the radio and will likely get him at least a magazine article, if not a book contract. If he plays his cards right, he could parlay his one interesting idea into becoming the next Morgan Spurlock.

It further strikes me that, in this guy´s case at least, even not communicating is self-serving. By not speaking he turned an intriguing idea into a curious event, curious enough to get the media to pay attention to him-even though his curious event is common practice throughout the monastic tradition, for example. He´s not alone in his practice of self-serving silence, though. People keep their mouths shut for their own benefit all the time. We keep silence in mixed company to avoid sounding foolish; we keep silence in unfamiliar environments to remain anonymous or enigmatic; we keep silence in the face of injustice to avoid the inconvenience that speaking out creates.

I keep silence all the time-not that you´d notice. I have a loud laugh and a voice that carries, and when I have a captive audience that is easily impressed, I can go on for hours. But when speaking up or speaking out involves risk, I´m inclined to keep my mouth shut, because I´m risk-averse and fiercely protective of my reputation.

There is, however, a redemptive aspect of communication. Without communication we can´t reach consensus. Without communication we can´t forgive or be forgiven. Without communication we never hear or offer good news, we never call for or are called to repentance, we never experience release from the prison of our own self-centeredness. That prison is the Me-Ville I´m seeking deliverance from, and to borrow from the apostle Paul, such deliverance is not a matter of talk, not even a matter of silence, but of power. (1 Cor 4:20).

3 comments:

heather said...

Can you imagine being this guy's wife? I'd shoot him. Silent retreats are great, but to impose this on a loved one every week! I'd love to see him tell his boss that he's decided he's being too selfish to talk at work.
Communication, I think, like anything, can be used for our convenience or for service to God. And every choice we make in communicating, whether to be silent or to speak, has to be brought under that service to God.
As Paul said, how will they ever know unless someone preaches to them?

Jenn said...

This is a really good post with which I particularly resonate of late. Especially the offering of and receiving forgiveness.

It seems sort of silly to me to say one particular action (or even inaction) is inherently self-seeking. ANY of them can be, for goodness' sake! (Or . . . less-than-goodness, maybe.)

Anonymous said...

This is brilliant, Dave. I may just print it out and share it with the entire staff at my parish--among whom communication could stand some attention. Beautiful reflection.

Jeannine