Self-inflicted duct tape


I work in communications. I work with decisions every day around tone, strategy, word choice, emotion, and the like. Therefore, I am constantly aware of how people speak, what they say, what words they choose and why, and the delivery of their speech. Yes, it has become at once very interesting and yet simultaneously debilitating. My mind is constantly evaluating conversation – “Why did they say that? What was that tone he was using? Who is she trying to influence?” Gah!

Sometimes I think  it would be better if my world was a bit noiseless for awhile, it might let me relax my mind a wee moment so I can drift off to sleep easier and not feel like my brain is on overdrive. Pure silence. Just for a few moments. No talking, no loud remarks, no blah, blah, blah.

This idea kind of popped into my head today as I read about a guy who took a 17 year vow of silence . I’m doing research on him for an article I’m writing as he’s coming to speak in about a month at my company (we bring in outside speakers – people like Steve Jobs, Carly Fiorina, Ray Kurzweil – to share fun topics with employees…and I write about it). I’m perusing his bio, reading about his commitment to giving up motorized vehicles and walking all over the planet, and suddenly I come across his vow of silence tidbit. Say what now? Seventeen years of no speaky? Holy smokes, I don’t think I could go 24 hours. And 17 years???

I started wondering what life would be like if you made the commitment to not speak – verbally – for several years. My mind began wandering over the every day mundane things we do…like buying groceries.

“Hi there, ma’am, how are you today?” Perky clerk doing the standard greeting. It would be rude not to acknowledge so under my vow my silence, I would do the nod and give an “OK” sign with my hand.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

“Hmmm, this isn’t ringing up right. Do you remember how much this is?” Look contemplative for a moment. Hmmm, bring hand to chin and furrow brow. Shrug shoulders. Hold up two fingers, dot the air, make a zero twice.

“Huh? What was that?” Sigh, drop shoulders, try again. Hold two fingers up, dot air emphatically, and pointedly make a zero twice.

“Er, okay. Was that $2?” Nod head, give thumbs up. Clerk clearly is suspicious but keeps ringing up rest of grocery items.

“Shoot, this apple doesn’t have a sticker. Do you know what kind of apple this is?” Crap. How do I mime Braeburn? Look a little confused, make sign of writing with pen in hopes that she gets the notion that I need something to write with.

“Um, yeah, sure, I have a pen…” Clerk grabs a pen and small receipt scrap for me to write on. I scribble down the name and pass it back. Clerk punches in the code and asks, “Is your throat sore? Did you lose your voice?” I nod appreciately, pointing to my throat and sticking out my tongue, the universal “I’m sick” sign.

“Ohhh, that’s too bad. I hope you feel better soon.” I throw my hands up in the air, shrug my shoulders, and roll my eyes as if to say, “Yeah…me too. But if you only knew the truth behind my silence…”


Don't you love this image? Her little white gloves kill me.

“Okay, so your total is going to be $27.52.” Whip out debit card. “Is that debit or credit?” Point at numbers on pad, make motion of entering PIN.

“Debit?” Nodding. “Okay, go ahead and swipe your card.” Swipe card. Punch in PIN. Screen says to tell clerk it’s debit. Look back up at clerk who is now staring off into space. Tap screen.

“Just punch in your PIN.” In my head, I hear myself respond ‘already did’ but nonverbally, I nod my head vigorously up and down. Clerk continues to wait impatiently for me as I am impatiently waiting for her. Tap screen again.

“Just enter your PIN and you’re set.” I nod my head with the greatest of emphasis, looking up to the ceiling and down the floor, hoping the clerk gets the gist of my nonverbal way of communicating, “Yes, you nitwit, I’ve done that; now do YOUR part.”

Clerk finally realizes she needs to clear it out on her end. Receipt comes up, bags are handed over to me, and the closing remark of “Have a nice day” is met with a “Back at ya” gesture from me. Hmmm, not too bad. I could do that. But not for 17 years. It would be more like “I’ll try this out – on a dare.”

Man, I bet that Silence Guy  is so good at charades now.


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