We sat there at the diner table. Plates empty with just a few small leftovers. Pans already in the kitchen ready to be cleaned. The TV was on but barely audible…
A loud argument was well on its way. Both parties heavily shouting at one another. It was more of a fight without physical contact than an argument if I think of it. One after the other argument was given. We didn’t even know the initial reason for the argument anymore. We didn’t listen, nor did we think of our words. We reacted instead of responded. Once in awhile a fist was pounded on the table out of pure frustration. I looked up at the clock…
Only a few minutes had passed. Another shout was thrown my way. It hit me as hard as a fist can hit you in the chest. It wasn’t mental anymore. The mind couldn’t take the assaults anymore and divided it into the body. Mental pain became physical too. The pain froze me. Leaving me silent.
As there was no one to respond anymore the argument fell silent. I looked at the table. Trying to resist the tears pounding at the back of my eyes. Playing with my nails. My heart was still beating in such a way that it almost couldn’t keep up with the rhythm. It was anger and fear. Both at the same time. Not a well-brewed combination of toxic chemicals. I didn’t dare lookup. For me…
The argument was over. I left the table. Not saying a word. In complete silence. Both physically and mentally. “Don’t walk away!” My father shouted. I understand now. It’s frustrating when someone leaves the argument. It makes you feel like you lost the argument instead of won it. I didn’t care. I opened the door and walked up the stairs to my room. I slammed the door and just lay down on my bed. By now the tears had formed a wave. Gushing down my face. All the emotions. The cortisol and adrenaline released in that argument wanted to be released. The shortest way was to cry.
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Now the tables turned
The door would open. It was my dad. He got in and sat down next to me on my bed. He apologized. Always the same. But still…
He started to talk about the argument. Still trying. Still wanting to convince me that I should listen to him. That I hadn’t done enough work for school. It was always this stupid little thing. Yet I had listened to him throughout the argument. So I didn’t want to listen anymore. I nodded and replied with yes and no.
I knew he wanted the best for me. I knew this wasn’t because of me. I knew that all he wanted for me was to do well. So he didn’t have to worry about me any longer. Or maybe I didn’t understand this. Maybe I just started understanding this.
This was a never-changing thing. Almost weekly. If not daily. These arguments would arise. Always with the same ending. I was silent. He was mad. Never changing. Or so it felt. But as time does to everything this changed. I didn’t want to argue anymore. So instead of reacting I almost always stayed silent. Not sharing much anymore.
This wasn’t the way as well. This constant silence, even when there was something positive to share was a way to take revenge on my dad. Middle age style, taking revenge on the one doing something to you. Of course, this didn’t work. I hurt my dad with that. I never wanted that. I just gave in to the resentment still there. A lurking pair of eyes in the back of my mind. Constantly aware of my thoughts. If any thoughts entered my mind to share anything the eyes would pop out of the shadows and grasp it. Taking it away and replacing it with resentment.
So I never really shared anything with my dad anymore. I to this day still feel ashamed for that. I understand my response. As do I understand his now. We were both masculine men, who thought the best way to win is a contest in shouting and arguing.
Storms will pass
Not all storms come to disrupt your life. Some come to clear your path.
The storms I and my dad have created have passed. But only because of the silence. The silence did something to the conversation, no argument could ever do. I now know the power of silence. By then it was just a defense mechanism. A way for me to pull back out of the conversation to not get hurt anymore.
The storms came to clear my path. To make me understand why silence is so important. The arguments I have had always ended in a, how I like to call them, ‘reaction based conversation’.
Reaction based conversation
With any natural argument, it all starts with two people trying to convince one another. Most of the time this will either end in a draw in which both parties will stay the same or in a win for either one which means one of them converts to the other’s standpoint. Logical right? I’ve learned that this is the winners’ mentality we have all created for ourselves. We care a lot about winning, even when it comes to human communication. But what the focus on winning does to us is toxic for the conversation.
Only the result matters, when you focus on winning. All the obstacles become irrelevant. You just jump over them, put them aside, or break them. The same goes for a conversation that results in an argument. Me and my dad were so focused on proving we were right that we forgot to think. So it became a matter of winning instead of compromising. This is how a reaction based conversations start.
Instead of responding, we react. Reacting is instant, responding is thoughtful. Reacting is based on unsettled emotions, responding is based on grounded emotions. Reacting is a defense mechanism, responding is a compassionate mechanism. The arguments I had with my dad were always reaction based. One would say something and the other would halfway through interrupt the other to make its point clear. There was no room for thinking. Or even time to reflect on what we actually felt.
A reaction-based conversation will always result in shouting and wants you to win the argument. When there really is nothing to win, only to lose if we go into it this way.
The ego plays the tricks
I’ve noticed that emotions drive me in conversations. Especially arguments. I react quickly and act upon emotions. But these are most of the time, not the reaction I am looking for. They might be based on fear, anger, or discomfort and don’t really look at and feel the other’s perspective. This, my friends, is the ego. I have learned a lot about the ego, not barely enough to know everything but I do know how it can play tricks with you.
Especially in conversations. The ego takes control in conversations and makes us react in ways we don’t want to react. I see the ego as a sort of voice or character in my head that has a skill to easily disguise himself. It can easily change himself into thoughts you trust. Most of the time strong emotions you think must be true. But I have noticed that most of these thoughts aren’t grounded on anything and if I think them true in meditation most of the time they fall into a deep pit. I thought of them to be steady and build on solid ground but they were much more build on soft soil easily flushed away by the slightest of storms.
In conversations, you might think you have a well-grounded opinion or response. Yet if the storm of the conversation gets louder and louder you find out the soil on which your argument was based is nothing but losing dirt. The arguments I had with one of my best friends were amazing examples of this. Again and again, he would completely flush away the soil underneath my point of view and I would still try to make it look like the argument was valid and strong. It just wasn’t and I knew this. This is what the ego is best at. Making you think something is right and valid, but in the end, it isn’t at all.
Be silent. Be quiet and listen. This way you will separate the noise from your thoughts and get clarity on how to respond. The ego can’t keep faking the soil. In the end, your opinion or response will fall, it will crumble. It doesn’t really matter how you feel about something, nor what your opinion is about something. All that matters is if you and the other person can be happy and still have a different opinion. Rather than follow your ego and think that you have an amazing argument and that you should win it, just be silent. Listen to the other person.
I am not clean
Now I am not clean. I am not saying that I do this perfectly. I do not blame my dad for this anymore. I have found a place of peace and appreciation for these storms. But I do find myself in the same situations with other people.
The temper and stubbornness of my dad have stuck to me over the years. And now I find myself doing the same thing. Instead of listening to my girlfriend I instantly replied. Although I swore to never shout at someone again, I still react to responses instead of respond. I didn’t leave any silences or moments to think.
But luckily I noticed this behavior. I saw how I was becoming the same way my dad was in our arguments. I didn’t want this. This is no blame to my dad, this is more of an appreciation for him showing me what not to do in these situations. He was not the only one who taught me to be silent. A friend of mine did so too. He taught me that if you are not right in a conversation you should just accept and move on. Don’t try to rescue a sinking ship. Accept that you are wrong and accept the emotional response that comes with that. I learned to be less stubborn and listen more. I learned that if I was wrong, I didn’t lose. Rather we both won. I learned to form the argument and now had more knowledge and understanding of the others’ viewing point.
Yet again this only comes from being silent.
Going into an argument can be really tiring if you have to defend yourself over and over again. The same goes for the other person if you constantly give your unasked opinion or try to convince the other. This results in a sort of constant battle to win or rather not loose. This is toxic but silence is the antidote to this toxin.
We are mostly emotional beings, so an argument won’t always help. It has a bigger tendency to make someone mad than making them listen to you. So if you are silent you imply that you are truly listening, now do not fake this listening. Listen to them and hear them out. Be both mentally and physically silent.
I have heard many stories of how Steve Jobs always stayed silent for a few seconds before responding. It felt incredibly uncomfortable for those sitting with him because we are so used to reacting instead of responding. Steve knew this. He understood that in conversations there is more knowledge found in the unspoken than in the spoken. It is both a tool for negotiation and a great tool for communication I have noticed. I am not an expert in this. I am just sharing my experience. I think we can learn from people like Steve Jobs to be silent more often.
To listen and respond instead of speak and react. Speaking is a powerful tool, but only if you balance it with more listening, more silence. If you don’t you are only firing blanks hitting the other person in places you didn’t intend them to hit with no effect at all. But I noticed that when I became silent in a conversation I started to have peace within myself. That I could start to listen and understand the other. It didn’t really matter if they had the same opinion as I had. As long as we are both happy that is all that matters.
What we learn from being silent
Now if we are silent I noticed it can teach us three things.
- Silence gives us a moment to think and reflect;
- It shows you if the other person is ready to be reasoned with;
- and it is a test of confidence for both yourself and the other person, testing if they are confident enough in their standpoint.
These three things, thinking, observing and testing are really strong tools in a conversation. Not to win the conversation but for both of you to learn something new.
Silence is a weakness
I hear this argument. That staying silent is a weakness. I can completely get it. We are more used to people giving their opinions. Politicians trying to win an argument instead of work it out together. People on social media reacting to each other’s posts with good and bad comments. So speaking up, giving your opinion, and reacting has become mainstream. In this, I forgot to be silent. I thought that my opinion on something mattered, that I should always speak up.
But speaking up hardly does anything if the other person isn’t open to listening. So I much rather listen and be silent. Or at least I intend to. Once again I am far from perfect. So I do not intend to preach anything to you. This is just my way of looking at it. I feel like I have to react a lot in my life but it never brought me anything but either feeling hurt or hurting the other person.
But I say be weak. Be silent and do not react. Think things through and if it is not worth your energy just be silent. Not everything you hear, see, or are drawn is worth the energy. Being silent and listening therefore is a stronger response. Leaving you with more energy for the things that do matter.
I am thankful for all the arguments I have had with my dad. Although they weren’t fun at all, they have thought me the value of silence. How arguing will not bring you any further. Much rather follow your path no matter the other’s opinion. Don’t try to win, because that might only result in pain for either you or the other person.
Silence is a tool. It can be appreciated because living in silence isn’t boring. Start to feel comfortable in the silence. I try to respond instead of reacting. Listen instead of talk. Empathize instead of win. I am still learning about this. But I figured why not share what I have already learned from this. How this experience in this beautiful life has once again brought value to my life.
Because what matters most is that Today You Lived!