Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Silence Day Six

Through various circumstances too dull to relate I was walking through my neighborhood yesterday carrying my daughter’s lunch box and odds and ends from school. My daughter was not with me. I began thinking what an odd sight I might appear to anyone of a suspicious mind. What is this grey haired man doing with the paraphernalia of a schoolchild? Where did he get those things and where is the girl to whom they belong? I wonder if there are people whose first thought is – Oh, there’s a nice man, he’s found some child’s stuff and he’s trying to get it back to her or her family. I doubt it. I am not given to such thoughts though neither am I particularly given to suspect dark motives in those I pass unless they are drunken youths since I was once a drunken youth. My lack of voice and the various diagnoses that have gone along with its deterioration are the reason I was walking alone with my daughter’s things, (as I noted, very dull) and I couldn’t bear watching others eat pizza while I sipped water or chewed lettuce. My shadowed thoughts are a result of the several times I have been accosted by various authority figures questioning my relationship to my child who is adopted and looks completely unrelated to me. Were I a fully functioning individual my daughter and I would have been walking together, chit chatting, making our usual observations and, though some uniformed person might question our association, no one would find it odd that I was carrying a child’s lunch box and composition book. This lack of a voice is beginning to make me view the world quite askew. I am now envisioning myself in some dank police cell, gesticulating at an investigator because they have taken away my pad and pen in which are written such strange things as “tazer” and “Alice killed him”.

I don’t really know exactly how silent monastic orders operate, the degree to which the silence is observed. Presumably talk is allowed when they are trying to bake their daily bread and orders have to be given and acknowledged and the various functions of the monastery have to be carried out. One of my favourite jokes is about the man who joins a silent order which allows each member to speak once each ten years, only to the abbot (if that’s what a chief monk is called). After ten years the monk enters the abbot’s cell and the abbot indicates permission to speak. The monk tells the abbot that he finds the heating inadequate but otherwise things are going well. Ten years later the same ritual occurs and the monk says he finds his mattress a bit hard but otherwise all is fine. After thirty years the ritual is repeated and the monk tells the abbot he wishes to leave the order. Fine, says the abbot, all you’ve ever done anyway is complain. What I am realizing over these few but seemingly endless days is how much our personalities depend on our voices. This is true also of those whose voice is sign language since each person’s signing is differently expressive. We all react to an adult, man or woman, who has a very high voice. Similarly we have prejudices about deep voices. The monks, though, rarely register the way a personality is expressed in speech yet I assume they have deep friendships and notable likes and dislikes within their group. I find myself now unable to contribute to any conversation, in fact I avoid most social situations because they are so much work. I do listen, however, and even though others are sadly missing out on the enlightenment I usually bring to any given subject, I at least am learning something. Speech tells others a good deal about how your mind works. This allows those engaged with you to adapt their conversation to suit the way in which you seem to perceive the world. This to and fro is the basis of change for those of us who are changeable, which includes the great majority of us. The other apes don’t change much because they have no significant discourse (all PETA members can find a link to opinions that suit them better). We are discursive apes. We are self reflective apes. This is linked to brain size, which is linked to vocal chord usage and so on but the basis of our success as a species is the ability to communicate in very sophisticated ways. While this ability has led us to the brink of the destruction of our own and many other species it is also what gives us the capacity to save ourselves. I wonder if our exasperation with politicians lies in their speech. It is unchanging. Their way of speaking, certainly the unvarying way they have of addressing the public, is ape-like. They are grunting at the faction that already agrees with them because they know that’s where the next banana is coming from. To speak in a flexible way, in the way most of us speak in our daily lives, taking in information and adjusting to it, might alienate their supporters and there is no guarantee that the people whom they have earlier opposed, and to whose view they might be leaning slightly, will throw them any fruit. I am probably gravely insulting other apes, particularly those who watch cable news. I am sure that monastic life has changed over the centuries but probably not by much. This, too, might be the result of not speaking. Much as the world might benefit from the study of the monastic life I think I will stick with mouthing off and leave that to some quiet academic.

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