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The Beauty Of Silence
by Helen Keller, an article in Home Magazine, May 1935
PERHAPS I have chosen a peculiar subject for this article. How can one who does not hear a sound contrast noise with silence? Most people use their ears so constantly, they do not realize that the skin of our bodies is so sensitive that we perceive countless vibrations in the air and in objects we touch. For instance, I am extremely susceptible to the noises of machinery, whistles and the irritating jar of multitudes out of step. In the peace of my little garden I usually can escape from disturbing vibrations, but at present I am greatly annoyed by the metal hammers pounding on the new subway that is being constructed through Forest Hills
However, not all vibrations are unpleasant. Music has always been an exquisite joy to me. Although I cannot distinguish the melody, the rhythm delights and soothes me. In seasons of growth and bloom nature sings into my hand with leaves, grasses and the rippling accents of river and stream.
There has been a great deal in the papers recently about the effects of noise upon health. Many physicians maintain that the uproar of our cities is causing many mental disorders and much deafness.
However that may be, I know that silence is essential to the happy development of the human being. In the Montessori schools the period of quiet is a part of the curriculum. Every child sits tranquilly at his task for a certain length of time. When they become obstreperous and interfere with each other’s orderly conduct, they are isolated until they regain their composure.
For the most part, we live in an environment that is unfavorable to silence, and we ourselves contribute to the din by too much talking. When two or three women get together, they positively deluge each other with words. Everybody talks, nobody listens.
Good listeners are as rare as white crows. No sooner does one set out to expound a theory or explain a situation than someone breaks in with “That’s all nonsense! Such idea will never be taken seriously in America.” How can a fruitful conversation spring from such an attitude?
It is said of Macaulay, who was a great talker, that he had his “brilliant flashes of silence” — that he was much more interesting and a better companion during those silences than when his flood of discourse poured over the whole table. Many a stupid man has made an enviable reputation for good sense by holding his tongue. Shakespeare wrote: “Some are accounted wise for saying nothing.” Such is the merited reward of a good listener.
The Chinese regard silence as so important that for three days after the birth of a child perfect quiet is maintained — even the courtyards are thickly strewn with straw so that no sound may reach mother and child.
There are also eloquent listeners. My friend, Pearl Buck, who has lived in China since she was three years old, has taken on the restful quality of silence that is so much a part of the character of the Chinese people. Callers are embarrassed by her stillness and the steady gaze of her observing eyes. This is the sweet silence of deep woods and placid waters.
Women have for ages been regarded as the supreme offenders against the beauty of silence. The Bible is full of disparaging comments on the mischief that lurks in woman’s tongue. “Many words are like a sandy hill to the feet of the aged.” “A woman who talks continually is a weariness.” In Ireland, fishermen say, “If you want a good catch, have no women around, the clatter of their tongues drives away the fish.” How many saints, scientists and sages have taken refuge from a siege of tongues in cells or on the mountaintop or in the desert!
It would be a good thing if women as well as men cultivated the Art of Silence. For silence restores poise and judgment to our fidgety minds. It keeps us serene in the midst of a thousand small distractions. Only in quietness do we truly possess our own minds and discover the resources of the Inner Life.
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Keller, H. (1935, May). The beauty of silence. Home Magazine. Retrieved [date accessed] from /?p=10706.