Sunday evening, after my wife had gone to bed for her required six hours before her interstate commute, I had a strange thought pop into my head. Not strange as in the fun, kinky, “why don’t we put a peeled banana in between your boobs while you ride me like a cowgirl,” NC-17 definition, but strange in the unknown source, “now that’s an interesting idea,” weird sense. The thought was, “Why don’t you take a Vow of Silence?”
I am typically a chatty person. I will talk to anyone about anything for any amount of time. One of my favorite times of the week is when I call my Nebraska gal (Hi Cheri!) for our weekly phone call, which consists of approximately eighty minutes of Seinfeld-esque talking about nothing. I talk to myself in the middle of the day while walking down my block when I am absolutely certain there is not another living soul within five hundred feet (because unlike me, they all work hard). So an inner call to take a vow of silence, for any length of time, is the very definition of a strange thought.
The more I considered it, the more the idea grew on me. Powerfully spiritual men and women take such a vow to become closer to Nirvana, or God, or the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, or whatever. Could I learn something of spiritual value through an abdication of my vocal crutch? My mouth has gotten me into hot water lately: raising my voice at inappropriate times and in inappropriate places, accidentally using the word “stubby” to describe someone I adore, and getting into non-productive arguments. Shutting off the valve voluntarily might be a needed respite.
However, my job requires me to talk. It is a little difficult to teach higher algebraic reasoning using completely made up sign language (because I do not speak ASL) and pointing to errors. So I came up with a compromise: A Vow of Quiet. I challenged myself to two days of limiting myself to using as few words as possible. I challenged myself to wait at least three seconds before using those few words, making sure I used my words with intent. Finally, I challenged myself to not inform anyone of what I was doing.
I have about three hours left in this challenge, and I can report my roommate does not find my silence funny. My wife texted me to say good-night because I decided to not call her as usual because I had spoken so much at work. But I have almost made it, and I have learned a few interesting facts about myself and others:
- People become paranoid when your expected behavior is not seen. My in-laws constantly asked me if I was alright, even though I was still smiling, laughing, and giving hugs. My roomie thought I was mad at her for some unknown reason. One of my students asked me straight out, “Did you lose your voice or something?” I said, “No,” and nothing else and the poor kid looked at me like my head had grown a set of stag antlers. I found it a little funny, I admit it. But honestly, I did not start this experiment with the intention of laughing at an inside joke.
- The hardest part of this vow was a major surprise. I had to stop myself a hundred times from singing along with music. First, I didn’t realize it had become such a habit of mine to sing along with classic hits like Weird Al’s “Since You’ve Been Gone,” or Bowling for Soup’s “1985.” Second, not singing along made me listen to the music again and realize how much I was butchering it. I do not have a record deal for an obvious reason… obvious now that I have stopped singing along.
- A lot of my anger stems from my own aggressive talking. When I pause and consider before I spew forth vitriol, I am a generally happier person. Traffic jams do not seem as time consuming, the stubborn non-working student will eventually focus back at their pace, and I can hear more of the wonderful sounds of the world. I think I will keep the three second delay for a while longer.
- I still constantly talk to myself in my own head. I thought that limiting my outer communication would affect how much I chatted inside my mind. Nope. I am still constantly distracted by random stories, sexual innuendo, moral hypotheticals, past memories, and 1980s commercial jingles. Guess even a vow of quiet cannot keep my brain from drawing doodles all day long.