As I finish up Cheryl Glenn’s Unspoken: A Rhetoric of Silence, I’ve been thinking about suasive silences in my own life, too.
Performing a masculine silence: Dealing with a roofing salesman, listening to his 20 minutes of flashy sales pitch, with an accompanying PowerPoint show right there in my dining room, my only reaction to his talk is to sit back in my chair, arms crossed across my chest, stone-faced and silent, (im)patiently awaiting the price tag. When it comes to negotiation, I’m unskilled and unsure, so I say little, noting that I have the insurance check already and need the roof repaired, but that I also want to be a responsible homeowner and get bids from other contractors. He’s flustered (perhaps) by my silence, and knows that if he leaves without a deal, he’ll only get silence (rather than a contract) from me. In this case, my silence gets me a new roof at a reasonable price.
Using a teacherly silence: To encourage my students to talk more in class, to take up the energetic style of debate and discussion commonly idealized in the (white) (male) (American) classroom, I often pose a question or idea and then remain silent until my students break out of their tentativeness and speak. My response is often more silence, coercing other students to speak when they might not otherwise do so. Some do. Some refuse.
Disrupting the studently silence: In my FYC class, it’s a ‘writing day’–a day for students to write and collaborate and work with me and their peers on the current major project. One of my students is Douglass: tall, athletic white male, about 19 years old. While all of the other students in the room are busily writing, Douglass sits back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest, staring at his computer screen. I verbally nudge and cajole him out of his writing silence, telling him to start something, to tear off the band-aid, that silence (here defined as non-motion) isn’t composing.
Wishing for professional silence: All I want is a soundproof bubble to go over the top of my cubicle. This work space is loud–the often-visited dean’s office is five feet away from my cubicle entry, the secretary on the other side of the room is listening to some podcast or video just a little too loud, a few math professors are working with students, and someone is vacuuming (?) in the corner. I can’t focus, and have to turn my own music up to get the kind of undisturbed space that I feel like I need to get reading done.
Living in silence: My wife and two daughters are visiting family in New Mexico, and because I’m working at a church fundraiser all weekend and have to teach on Friday and Monday, I can’t go. My home, usually bustling and loud with television, musical toys, or musical children when I get in after work, is silent. Only the nasal breathing of the dog sounds from the other room. It’s nice, but only in short bursts. Otherwise, the silence reminds me that I’m lonely and missing my girls.
Suffering in silence: I’ve been waiting to hear back about some important e-mails I’ve recently sent, but to no avail. My inbox is still, the notification beep that sounds when a new message comes in is absent. Silent.
And if anybody says my blog’s been too silent lately, I’ll punch them.