Quiet is a funny thing, sometimes it is a welcome reprieve into serenity but to many, at least in the sense of conversing, it can lead to the feeling of social awkwardness. I admit to being a fairly quiet person and to having felt quite socially awkward in the past. It seems to be a more and more rare feeling these days, and that is chiefly because of a theory I have developed.
The main root of awkwardness, be it public speaking, intimate conversation or even sexual awkwardness comes from expectation and the fear of failing to live up to expectations. We feel obliged to meet these assumed expectations, and to some degree we are afraid we may not meet them and potentially lose face. Put simply no one wants to look the fool, right?
The need to be perceived as outgoing is a very western, and I hate to say it, a very American thing (please don't take this as a slight against American's or American culture, there are plenty of fantastic people that live in the States and many good things that come from their great nation). One of those things undeniably influenced by the States is their dominance in western media. Pause for a moment and think of all the movies and TV shows we watch, the music we listen to, the videogames we play, the magazines and websites we read, where does it predominantly originate? This simple but powerful realisation was first brought up me by reading Introvert Power
by Laurie Helgoe, a book by an American psychologist, and the more I think of it, the more it rings true. The media portrays the outgoing extrovert as the happy, well-balanced goal to aspire to, I mean, look how much fun they show them having, right!? Meanwhile the quiet person, the person who keeps to themselves or prefers to be alone tends to be portrayed unhappy, brooding, antisocial or in some other way, emotionally maladjusted.
Unknowingly, fearing to be perceived as the malcontent, we are conditioned to dread silence in social situations. We have a notion that we need to fill the void and meet this 'expectation' we assume others have of us, keyword here, expectation. What if we didn't have this expectation?
The Japanese have a concept in their art, architecture, music and woven within their very culture called 'ma'. Ma is negative space, the minimalist styling that gives a traditional Japanese tea room its beauty or the silence between notes in a piece of music that give the composition rhythm, progression and the lingering anticipation for the next note.'Where there is clutter, even valuable things lose their value. Where there is too much, nothing stands out.
The essence of Japanese aesthetic is a concept called 'MA' (pronounced "maah") — the pure, and indeed essential, void between all "things."
A total lack of clutter, MA is like a holder within which things can exist, stand out and have meaning.
MA is the emptiness full of possibilities, like a promise yet to be fulfilled.'
- WAWAZA - When Less is More: Concept of Japanese "MA"
And thus, I would like to leave you on this note; 'the void' isn't something to be feared or something that you should feel the need to quickly cover up. The quiet spaces between our everyday interactions give more meaning to the dialogues we do share and gives us more time to think. It is ok to sit there, to relax and just be, and when you have something worth saying, you will know it.'The most perfect silence is, when there is no need to speak.
The most perfect silence is, when there is no need to explain.'
- Perfect Silence
by Blank & Jones