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Insight 2017: Make this a year of awkward silences

It’s a noisy pub. A college dropout masquerades as a DJ and you can see him press that play button with a sincerity of a soldier pulling the trigger for his nation. You want to strangle him with an aux cable. His playlist is as bi-polar as the patrons shaking their heads in a comatose state. It’s too loud. At 150 beats per minute, there is hardly any breathing space to make a conversation. You step out to grab a breath of fresh air infused with nicotine. The sudden absence of noise lashes at you.

Silence.

It slowly starts to gather around you and your fellow nicotine addict. You stare at each other, slowly getting absorbed into the quicksand of awkwardness. The addict struggles but still manages to squeak: “And then?” But it’s too late. “Nothing much,” your reflexes reply. The same lunge. The same parry. This verbal bout has been going on for some time now but with the pace of a banana rotting. Slow, but revolting. You suddenly miss the noise that shielded you from this. That pre-pubescent mp3 jockey now looks like a knight in shining headphones. You wish to pin upon him vinyls of actual music as medals of honour. But your imagination can only distract you for a while because it’s still there.

Silence.

It’s Murphy’s Law all over again: When you need a cricket’s chirp to fill the void you never find it. Eleven more minutes to wait out until that little chemical crutch will burn away. You can hardly wait to be embraced by the noise inside. The last exhale, followed by a cough, punctuated by phlegm. It’s done. If only the awkwardness could have been stubbed out underfoot. You walk back in where the noise slaps you hard across the cheek. It folds you into its bosom like a parent would. Nostalgia feels good even if it was a moment just 15 minutes before. It’s a safe place. You don’t need to make conversation here. But then again, you chose this place exactly for this reason.

Illustration credit: Edlyn G D'Souza

Illustration credit: Edlyn G D'Souza

We have all been in one of these situations. With your partner, boss, colleagues and with those strangers who stagger into your life during those pub crawls.

“He’s a nice guy but he’s boring.”
“God! That thing has protein shakes for brains.”
“I like feet.”

These are things that we hear often. Maybe not the third one. Is it because of the ADHD that everyone claims to have? Is it because intelligence is now passed on through a recessive gene? People now use ‘Sapiosexuals only’ on their dating profiles. That word didn’t exist a few years ago. Or did people want to date idiots back then? That word was invented because the conversation is dead.

And we killed it.

We could pass on the blame to social media, but that’s not the truth, is it? It’s our own perverse Tom-peepery. Because we know every trivial part of each other’s lives: What’s on your mind? What’s happening? Snapchat. WeChat. Group chat. Recommended for you. Recommended by him. Why don’t you recommend me? Check-ins. Check-outs. Currently reading. Currently playing. Currently watching. Currently single. Blue ticks. Stars. Bookmarks. Added. Blocked. It’s complicated. Heart it. Like it. Upvote it. Pin it. Swipe it. Skyped. Verified. Lol, I died. Notify. Spotify.

Sigh.

When we know exactly what someone ate, went, spent and did, what is the point of meeting them in person and talking? Right? But we don’t know them too well: We know each other through memes, TV shows and pop culture reference. The level of which we know people makes a coffee spill feel as deep as the Mariana Trench. We know what people like, but not what they are like. If a person is what he eats, then most people are someone else’s opinion. We know. But we don’t know-know.

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Let’s make 2017 the year of awkward silences. The year in which less is spoken. But more is heard. In a world where decibel levels are everything, silence can be a powerful ally.

When they ask you if you have watched a movie, say no. Make sure the silence hangs there like a thick blanket. Like a veil of smog that chokes the life out of the socialising. And when they ask you if you have watched some show, say no again. Because you know where that conversation leads to.

Show A is good.
Show B is better.
Show B is good too.
True.
I still haven’t seen Show C.
I’m waiting for season two of Show D.
Reference from Show D season one.
Whoooohoooo.

Whooofuckingwhooo. Shut that conversation down. And marinate in the silence that now permeates like an oil spill BP would be proud of. Watch your opponent hmm, harumph, erm and hmmm their way out of it, desperately trying to shove away the silence that is now pushing them into a chasm of self-awareness. You know where this will lead to: a last attempt at conversation, the desperate grab of a man sliding down a cliff. They say, “Did you read that...” and you see a glimmer of hope of reviving a conversation. But then they complete the question, “…that Facebook/Whatsapp forward?” Shut them down. Don’t even respond. If the silence between you could be cut, you should need a chainsaw now. Let them look down into their mugs of ale, the fear of the unknown in their eyes.

Silence.

And now break it.

Break it with the truth: The truth about yourself. Something about your flaws. About your insecurity. A self-deprecating joke maybe. And then watch them get comfortable. The silence is going. There is still a faint pulse in the conversation. They might open up after all. And then they speak.

There’s no silence anymore.

They show you their bigotry. And you show them your sexism. They show their scars. You show your prescription pills. They talk about their homophobia. And you talk about your irrational fear of rabbits. They talk about the demon they face. You tell them he is your friend. Their dead grandma. Your weird lump. Their ignorance. Your pretence. Talk about it all. There is nothing to fear anymore.

The silence is dead. Conversation is alive.

Watch them transform from two-dimensional profile pictures into actual people. They see your transformation too. You might not like each other at the end of the night. You might never meet again. Maybe you will. But it doesn’t matter anymore. Because you now know them — and they know you. You walk away with a feeling that at least one person in seven billion knows how you feel.

Let’s make this a year of awkward silences. Because silence creates conversations.


Updated Date: Jan 01, 2017 08:50 AM

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