Awkward silences

A while ago I discovered (through following her on Twitter) the excellent Rev’d Lesley’s Blog. As is my usual way I lurked for a while and eventually added a comment or two when I felt there was a something I could add to the conversation. Recently some of Lesley’s posts have got me thinking – which is I am sure either her intention of at the very least wish.

The topic of both has been interaction with others. Particularly the reasons behind people not saying something if they feel there is something “different” about you. This might be (as in Lesley’s case) because of an experience you have had or pain you have endured. Often these situations leave both sides feeling awkward and silence ensues so people can often be put off saying anything even if they have the best of intentions. As I said in a comment on Lesley’s blog:

The reaction from the other mothers was tangible. Ranging from shock to fear (will this happen to me) to relief (glad that it hasn’t) and then obvious guilt and awkwardness.

That guilt and awkwardness was also found in us. We didn’t want to be the ones who caused others to feel so awkward. Nobody knew how to react around us and this made it all the worse. Such things tend to cause those awkward and prolonged silences and I wonder whether “Society” also prefers not to know because they just don’t know how to react.

I’m not going to reiterate the points made there over here but the issue at hand is interesting. Why do we react this way to people? How do we get into these situations where the “victim” frequently would appreciate a helpful voice (or better, ear) but those who are available to lend it are put off by a combination of their own fear and that of the “victim”? We hear often that those who suffer should not do so in silence and – particularly if we are Christians – we should be looking for ways to support each other. I did wonder if this is a peculiarly British thing, along with not talking on the London Underground or in Gents toilets? From friends I have outside the UK I am assured it is not. It seems that awkward silences occur in many nations and many situations.

Perhaps the only way to avoid them is to break them. Perhaps we who are on the receiving end of the 100th “helpful word of encouragement” would be advised to remember that it’s the first one from that person. perhaps those of us who are giving out the encouraging words would do well to remember what one of my teachers once said “You have two ears and one mouth because you are supposed to listen twice as much as you talk” or – for us Christians – also remember how Jesus frequently approached those in need with a simple “What do you want?” or “How can I help?” as we might phrase it today.

I recall when my grandfather died that a colleague was the only one who approached me to ask how I was. When I said it was tough going but I was doing okay she told me that she had wrestled with saying anything at all and in the end it was her Dad who advised her “What would you have him do if the situation was reversed?”. That’s good advice and it reminds me of some similar advice given a long time ago but still relevant:

“Do for others what you would like them to do for you. This is a summary of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12 NLT)