The Silent Treatment: What It Means Personally and Cosmically

MIND READERS DICTIONARY : Mind Readers Dictionary show

Summary: Maybe they just didn't hear you. Or maybe they heard you just fine and have decided that you're an idiot, not even worth responding to. Maybe they got your message but are simply too busy to respond. Maybe they're just quietly thinking it over and still haven't decided. Maybe they're so apologetic that they don't know what to say.  Maybe they're just having fun leaving you dangling. Whatever it is, it has been longer than you expected.  The silence is deafening. What does it mean? Maybe you should resend your message. After all, if they didn’t hear you, they’ll be glad you resent it. But if they’re just busy or quietly thinking it over, then your pestering them could turn them against you. And if they think you’re an idiot, maybe it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie. Or maybe, if they’ve decided you’re an idiot you should defend yourself. If they’re going to be that disrespectful, let them know what you really think. But again, what if they never got the message in the first place, or they’re busy or just thinking it over, or are just feeling bad.  If that’s the situation, then giving them a piece of your mind will prove that you’re an idiot. Lincoln said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” That probably applies to responding to silence too. Better to just wait.  They’re probably just busy, right?  Be patient… Wait… Maybe forever. Wait for people who probably think you’re such an idiot that they don’t need to respond. Or just ask them, maybe.  Ask them what’s up. They won’t mind.  Unless they think you’re a pest.  A needy pest over-anxious and supplicating: “Did you get my message?  What did you think?  I desperately need to know what you think.” This is infuriating. Even if they are busy, it’s clear they don’t respect you. What’s worse, their silence is like a shell game.  Whatever you do, you’ll reveal what you think their silence means and then—switcheroo--they can just change their explanation. You can say “You’re not speaking to me because you think I’m an idiot, right?” and even if that’s exactly why, they can always say, “My aren’t you paranoid. Actually, we’ve just been really busy.” Or you can say “You’ve been too busy to respond, right?” and even if that’s their story they can switch it, saying “My aren’t you paranoid.  Actually we were thinking about it.” Their shell game is as bad as “I’m thinking of a number between one and ten.” Whatever you guess, they can claim they were thinking of a different number. What’s worse still, no matter how crazy their silence drives you, they’re unassailable.  They can always say “What? We didn’t do or say anything!” Silence pleads innocence whether it’s innocent or not. Bob Monkhouse says “Silence is not only golden; it is seldom misquoted.” That’s cute but it’s absolutely wrong. There’s probably no communication more misquoted than silence. It’s very hard to know what it says. ----- Silence is a window into a fundamental misunderstanding in semiotics, the study of signs. In general and even in academic research, we assume that a sign is a thing. We say, “A green light means go,” as though the meaning was in the light itself. But if signs are things, are all things signs? How do we know which things are signs and which things aren’t?  And what about silence?  It’s not a thing. How can the absence of a thing be a sign? And yet it is. The absence of a tax form on April 15 is a sign to the IRS.  The absence of the supper you were expecting can be a very big sign served up to you by your soon-to-be ex-partner. We live in an era that people will look back upon as misguidedly thingish.  We’re sailing on the successes of a 350-year campaign to exp