Written by Betelehem Gulilat, Content Writer
Illustrated by Nikhil Parwar, Digital Storyteller
Why do we as humans feel uncomfortable being in a space of silence? Whether it’s in the middle of a conversation, a work meeting, a stroll outdoors, or staying indoors in solitude, most of us feel unsettled by the absence of sound in almost every aspect of our lives. When silence is used with the right intentions, it can bring a world of meaning to our lives. It leaves us no other choice but to express empathy towards ourselves and others around us.
So, what exactly is silence? In other words, it means purposeful quietness. It is intentional in that you are actively silencing noise that can take away your focus from the present moment (1). As difficult as it is to find these moments in our lives, being in silence and stillness has been shown to enhance our relationships, build empathy and inspire creativity which can elevate our overall wellbeing when used with the right intent.
Silence enhances our connections
Believe it or not, silence is a powerful tool in communication. When we hear the word communication, we tend to synonymize it with speaking and forget the goal of communication – to ultimately understand the message being conveyed to us as the listener. Silence drowns out the noise and heightens the clarity in messages. This allows us to understand what is being communicated to us better. When silence is met with discomfort, instinctively it leads people to fill in the gaps of conversation. What if we started embracing silence in our conversations? This creates a powerful opportunity for you to observe, pause, reflect, and participate in deeper conversations that can enrich our lives and relationships.
Silence builds empathy
By taking the time to purposefully be in silence, we are building empathy. Silence grants us the space to self-reflect by acknowledging our own thoughts, feelings, biases, and emotions. In these moments of silence, we are getting to understand ourselves better, and in turn, building deeper empathy for others. Taking the time to honour ourselves through silence allows us to honour others and their experiences. This is where we begin to see and understand how we all connect as humans which is a vital part of the design thinking process.
Silence inspires creativity
Creativity can be a different process for different people. While some find creativity from an interactive brainstorming session, others may find creativity from a place of silence. Making space for silence in these collaborative settings gives everyone a chance to contribute to the creative process in a meaningful way.
Ways To Embrace Silence
Within the realm of the Innovation Hub, silence plays an important role in how we empathize and understand the diverse lived experiences of U of T students. From our virtual feedback sessions to our final project presentations, silence is utilized to amplify powerful stories and inspire innovation in our community.
Here are a few ways you can incorporate moments of silence in your day-to-day life.
- Schedule time to be off-line: Most of us rely on technological devices to complete our work tasks, connect with friends, and enjoy our leisure time. We are all in desperate need of some time off-line without any distractions. Try to carve out 1 hr each day to be completely off-line to spend time to self-reflect without any outside distractions that influence your thoughts, feelings and values.
- Spend time outdoors: When was the last time you were immersed in nature? How did you feel? Being out in nature by default forces you to be in the present moment, allowing you to honour yourself and the earth. These moments of silence are calming (and not uncomfortable) because nature is natural. Therefore, this is a great way to start embracing moments of silence in your day-to-day life.
- Talk less, listen more: Through interviewing students, we’ve observed that embracing moments of silence gives the speaker a chance to collect their thoughts, share their stories, and helps us empathize with the speaker
This by no means is an easy feat and will take quite a lot of practice but soon silence can become something you once dreaded to now embrace. Its through silence that we are able to truly express empathy for one another and ourselves. Through normalizing silence in our everyday life, soon we can begin to witness the quiet power of silence.