Last week I attended two unrelated meetings where participants were invited to share views on a given topic. For a time, no one spoke. After one person broke the emptiness, silence fell again. Were others as uncomfortable as I was? Were they bored, or planning the rest of their day, or struggling to answer the question posed?
I’m more accustomed to rapid-fire discussions filled with interruptions. Part of it is cultural; long pauses between speakers are standard among the Navajo. For me, interrupting is also a relic of childhood when, as the youngest in the family, I feared I'd never get a turn if I waited for the rest to stop talking first.
Zoom helps, with its “mute/unmute” and “raise hand” features and the impossibility of hearing two voices at once. I’m trying to use the silences to learn to listen more deeply, breathe more slowly, and be more fully present. It’s a work in progress.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.