Silence and Communication

January 26, 2012

Earlier this week, Pope Benedict XVI released his annual communications message. This year's message was entitled "Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization." It considers the importance of silence in communication. He correctly notes that silence "despite its importance, is often overlooked" in considerations of communication. Here are an excerpt:

Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible. It is often in silence, for example, that we observe the most authentic communication taking place between people who are in love: gestures, facial expressions and body language are signs by which they reveal themselves to each other. Joy, anxiety, and suffering can all be communicated in silence - indeed it provides them with a particularly powerful mode of expression. Silence, then, gives rise to even more active communication, requiring sensitivity and a capacity to listen that often makes manifest the true measure and nature of the relationships involved. When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary.
Amen! As I argued in my first book (For God's Sake, Shut Up!), sometimes the most effective form of communication is to remain silent.

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