The Quiet World: 24 hours, 167 words.

How difficult do you think it will be if I say you had to only speak 167 words per day?

…keeping in mind that the average woman speaks 20,000 words a day; and the average male, about 7,000. (The difference is striking I know, a potential story for another time I guess. x))

Being the confident humans we are, we’ll probably think it’s a breeze– we’ve gone about our daily duties for so long, it’s almost second nature. To be honest, the voice doesn’t physically do much, does it? If you had to go through a day with your hands tied, welllll that might have been a wee challenge.

Inspired by the poem, The Quiet World by Jeffery McDaniel, today 2 friends and I attempted a real-life rendition: 24 hours, 167 words.

The Quiet World

For brevity: I wrote that though I had an intellectual understanding of how powerful speech is, I didn’t quite know what to expect from this ahahha, only that it was a personal challenge. And through it I wanted to become a better listener, less impulsive thinker and perhaps rediscover the everyday melodies we take for granted. (Oh gosh if there’s anything I took for granted, it was speech, but that’s an insight for later)

I think I failed it ahahaha x) The first quarter was a struggle, the second quarter was dominated by an odd realisation that I was learning to adapt… but then PE came up and an unexpected Council meeting, then violin lesson and poof. If I discount those essential lines I had to speak to my teacher, maybe I could’ve made it. If I want to know for sure I’d have to do it again– but somehow the thought scares me more than it should heh.

While the memory’s still fresh and the silence still loud, here’re some insights I gathered: (some are probably more legit than others, but they were all thoughts that honestly struck me throughout the course of the day)

1. Words are precious.

Why do we even speak in the first place? (Actually many are starting to claim that the art of speaking or even face-to-face communication is slowly eroding away, what with the advent of technology which makes speech “redundant”)

But in my part, I’ve always believed we speak because there’s a sort of beauty in speech, in using our voices to convey a deeper meaning that transcends the mere words we speak. It’s as much how we say things, as what what we say.

When we have too much words, we tend to become careless? If we’ve had a rough day and our friend slips up, we snap back… harsher than we should’ve. When they come running with amazing news, sometimes we intone a ‘congrats’… less enthusiastic than we should’ve been. We feel its fine because though we can’t backspace our words, we can always apologize or top it up with a 100 word monologue explaining our initial sentiment. When you have 167 words to spend, you can’t. And in a way I learnt to be more careful when I speak, to be more genuine from the get go.

2. Silent companionship.

Silence in our society is seen as a sign of awkwardness, tension, an unnerving break we’re obliged to fill. Cue memories of the long second of silence after someone says something he probably shouldn’t have, or the bated breathe with which we wait while a basketball skids round the hoop. Avid too often we fill it up with mindless chatter– how’s the weather there? (Perhaps it has morphed in the 3 meters space between us)?

I did this with a really close friend (while another one attempted it in army i’m still so impressed he did it woww) and this is really takes silent companionship to a whole new level ahahaha. The nature of the challenge imposed silence upon us, and since unplanned silence can already be daunting, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with forced silence. And so I was really really glad when it turned out comfortable and unobligated and altogether lovely.

The Theory of Companionable Silence. It’s beauty lies in embracing silence when most reject it; in treating it as a good sign rather than a bad. Kelvin first mentioned it to me, and in the silence it struck me again just how precious (and rare?) silent companionship was. :’)

3. Chatty companionship.

It’s a foil to silent companionship and equally valuable ahahaha. I thought I’d be jokingly envious of my friends’ liberty to speak, but all I felt was happiness when I heard them speak. They gave me strength when I wanted to give up halfway x) And completed our sentences when we were gesturing comically.

Not being able to speak (self-imposed or otherwise) sucks, but not being able to hear them speak will be even worse. It’s not a matter of jealousy here– you-have-something-I-don’t-but I-want-it. It’s about sharing and caring (goodness I sound like a care bear no wayyy hahahahaha ^^;). Lending/sharing your voice to those who need it and caring enough to do so. :)

4. It’s easy to be forgotten.


My recording sheet :)

We carried around physical signs of our challenge; and like a talisman, though we couldn’t contribute to conversations, it protected us from isolation… made us topics of amusement and interest, even. But what if we were silent everyday? Or had nothing to explain our sudden mutedness? I think it’ll be easy to get left behind, to fade into the environment. Loneliness sets in gradually, then all at once (John Green!)… In a way it reaffirmed my conviction that we should always try to have opinions, to not be a mere yes-man/woman all the time and stand out! While being ourselves. :) But the idea that it’s easy to get lost navigating the waters of school (what more work?!) is sorta scary. ><

Mmm I didn't quite succeed in the end– an unexpected meeting and my violin lesson sorta spoiled it heh. But somehow the idea of doing it again – surviving another 24 hours with a paltry 167 words – makes me shudder. Human nature is not meant to be stifled. x)

Haha epiphanies don’t grow on trees! But sometimes, like ripe fruit hanging just out of reach, all we need is to reach up, step out of our comfort zone and we’ll learn things we never knew. :)



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