When I was fifteen, I decided to take a week long vow of silence for a school project. It required a bit of negotiating with other teachers, and writing was deemed necessary, but a week without speech was deemed doable. I carried a small makeshift whiteboard mostly to maintain participation points in class, attend extracurriculars, order lunch in the cafeteria, and talk to my parents; a note on the back quickly explained the project in case of question.
I had no strong urge to break my silence, though I remember once I started to speak, forgetting as I was startled. (I believe it was an exclamation as someone dropped something).
The silence gave me a week of focus. When other people spoke, I wasn’t necessarily expected to respond—they understood the awkward effort and timing of writing out a reply on a whiteboard, so unless they truly wanted to hear what I had to say at length, they settled for my nodding and smiling. Not listening to reply, I listened to listen and got to hear what they had to say without my planned response playing over it. In some cases, maybe what they had to say when they didn’t have to fear an immediate reply. It was an important experience for me, both then, and now—as a slave whose response might not even really matter to begin with.
Since conversation wasn’t available as an easy pastime, I dove into my schoolwork and personal writing and reading. Words were and are a huge part of my life. I’m a ten time NaNoWriMo winner (four of them before this vow); large amounts of words are my thing. There seemed to be more time to spend with my words, so to speak, in my favorite forms, when I wasn’t using them for speech.
In some mindfulness pieces I read, including BDSM ones, there’s a tactic mentioned called choosing silence. At a time when you could speak, choosing silence. This can be an act of kindness—if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. As a slave, it can keep you out of trouble. But it can also be an act of purely mindfulness—stop thinking about what you have to say back; just listen. Often, if you don’t listen just to reply, that eventual response is something slightly different and more insightful.
My silence that week also created a bit of a frame for when I did bother writing something out on the whiteboard. If I bothered, it seemed important, and people often read whatever it was twice. On my side, I was more mindful of my words—which is a good skill to retain as a slave with speech protocols—and was a lot less negative—a good thing in general.
A friend from the scene once commented that he sometimes didn’t know if I was actually as knowledgable as he thought I was, or if I was simply good at not talking about things I didn’t know about. Funny how even the admittance of not knowing, saying I don’t know; tell me more or I don’t have enough information for an opinion; I’ll have to look into that can somehow make it sound like you know more than throwing out guesses does.
Think of a book or show where the author wants to show a character is unintelligent or not knowledgable—they almost always have to do so through having the character speak. It is a very hard assumption to get from silence. It is also hard to convey a specific strong opinion or passion of theirs when it is buried in endless dialogue—though that can be an interesting characterization choice.
This can all be achieved without even a short term vow of silence. Listening primarily to hear people, not just to form a reply, means you will hear what they are saying and not what is easy to answer. Choosing a moment of alone time lets you process. Not talking just to talk clears time and energy for projects. Admitting what you don’t know adds credence to what you do claim to know. Focusing on talking about what you know and care about will bring more passion and personality to a conversation.
Just a few words on a lack of words.