A Scrutiny of Silence

As many of you may know, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have recenly passed, which means that, in the Jewish perspective, the universe is one year older. That, and we’ve all got remnants of the break fast feast in the refrigerator (ok hopefully this is not the case, because if it were, said remnants would be really moldy), and forgiveness on the mind.

My mind was already on forgiveness before Yom Kippur, not because I wronged anyone terribly (at least I hope that’s not the case), but because I recently finished reading Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love, which takes some very interesting angles on forgiveness. This book includes several different narratives, all of which revolve around an eponymous novel within the novel. For example, one story is narrated by a girl whose mother has been recruited, by a man she has never met, to translate The History of Love from Spanish to English, and another is about the author of the novel who has no idea that his friend plagiarized him and published the work. Krauss’ novel jumps from story to story and punctuates it all with excerpts of The History of Love, itself.

One excerpt of the novel within the novel talks about how the first language of humans was made up of only gestures. During this time, called “The Age of Silence,” individuals actually communicated more, and more effectively, than they do now. That said, often one gesture would be mistaken for another and giant misunderstandings would arise:

“There were times when a finger might have been lifted to scratch a nose and if casual eye contact was made with one’s lover just then, the lover might accidentally take it to be the gesture, not at all dissimilar for Now I realize I was wrong to love you.” (pg. 72) The people who lived during the age of silence, according to Krauss, were used to these misunderstandings because they happened so often. “Because of the frequency of these mistakes, over time the gesture for asking forgiveness evolved into the simplest form. Just to open your palm was to say, ‘forgive me.’” (73). The mind and the body were much more connected during the age of silence, as opposed to nowadays when an individual’s words and body language can be so contradictory.

It a way, we live in an age of silence today. This is not to say that nobody speaks, as was the case in Krauss’ age, but rather that everyone is always speaking, but hardly ever out loud. Nowadays people type at the top of their lungs on Facebook, Twitter and text messaging. There is a dearth of “face time” as Apple likes to call it, and most of the time when people do talk face to face, there is still a computer screen and several hundred miles between them.

In our age of silence, miscommunications happen all the time, as a result of a missing emoticon or a sarcastic tone taken the wrong way. But the difference is that these miscommunications are not often resolved quickly and sometimes people are unaware of a tragic error in translation when it occurs.

I think we in today’s world can learn a lot from the Age of Silence in Krauss’ book. For example, it is beneficial to take time to think about how our typed words have affected others- to ask, how many of my emails have unintentionally incited anger in a friend or coworker? Or how many times have I received a text message and gotten angry at its insensitivity, yet later learned that that it was supposed to be a joke. As difficult as it is to say, sometimes a simple “I’m sorry” can solve a lot.

Another thing we can learn is that whenever possible, it is important to have face-to-face or at least over-the-phone conversations. Chances are, you have a handful of friends who you haven’t spoken to- I mean actually spoken to- in weeks or months. So the next time you are mid text or email, stop typing and call the person, plan a coffee or dinner date, and make your way into the age of sound.

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