Silence and power

Silence is generally feared in Western circles, especially among friends or colleagues. Silence is defined exclusively in social terms, and, of course, silence will not be considered helpful in such settings. In social settings, one is expected to participate, to contribute to the brain-storming, the evaluating, the planning, the negotiating.

In the Western world, consensus conflicts with authority. Authority is not consider authenticity or wisdom but power. So consensus, on the other hand, is seen as “empowering” everyone — ignoring the inevitable power dynamics of groups and the fact that consensus seldom means more than acquiescence to power. Silence refuses the premises of social relations; it refuses the premise that authority and consensus are necessary poles.

In the East, at least historically, silence was seen as a wellspring of wisdom, like a deep reservoir of strength. Decisions were entrusted to those who could hold silence as much as to any talkers. Words were means of procrastinating over action and decision, not means of reaching consensus or of presenting apologias for authority. If the thing was right, then it should be done. Experience, not reason, was sufficient for the deeper things. Silence, not discussion, was the context for knowing what to do.