Silencing: A Passive Response that Breaks Bonds

Building a wall of silence

“Words are like swords, if you use them the wrong way, it’ll turn into ugly weapons, ” according to author, Gosho Aoyama; but I’ve learned the hard way that the absence of words can also harm and scar.

I had a disagreement with a friend the other day over how she was managing a certain problem. To cut the story short, a common friend advised that I “block” the person from the messaging app the next time she texts me, and for a brief moment, I considered simply ignoring the person in question and eventually, ceasing communication with her.

But something didn’t seem right…silencing another person made me anxious…

For one thing, the application claims that the process is discreet and that “the other person would not be notified that you blocked them.” Silencing someone without their knowledge is a very sneaky act. I’d be a coward if I do that! So the next day I tried to reach out to her via chat. However, the other person has gone silent.

According to Debra Lyn Bassett’s paper, Silencing Our Elders, there are five functions of silence: linkage (silence to bond or separate people), affecting (to heal or wound), revelation (to make something known or hide something), judgmental (to assent or dissent), and activating (thoughtfulness or mental inactivity).

Silencing (someone) is a form of manipulation. Going mute on someone important to you or silencing them by hindering them from speaking up, communicating with you, or expressing their reason is controlling a situation on your terms.  If you need to remain silent, convey this to the other person and communicate your need for a “time-out” conscientiously.

“Tampo” speaks louder than words

“Tampo”, which is similar to a silent treatment or “sulking” in Filipino culture, is a nonverbal response to show displeasure when an outcome is not reached, expectations are not met, or actions are not reciprocated. It is also a reaction by someone who feels unfairly treated or who is envious or jealous.

Filipinos employ tampo because they are naturally non-confrontational. They consider confrontational directness to be hostile and impolite. (Source: Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council)

Parties in a close relationship are “expected” to be aware and sensitive to each other’s emotions. Any changes in mood must be noticed and dealt immediately by the other party, or they will be given the cold shoulder. 

While some dismiss tampo as a petty or infantile response, such conduct must be handled because it can lead to a greater communication gap or the eventual breakup or degeneration of a relationship.

Tampo can only be directed at someone with whom one has a close relationship or when it is assumed that a certain level of comfortability has already been attained.  Awareness of the tampo indicates and demonstrates the “level of mutual knowing or closeness” (Source: Thomas Aquinas and a Filipino Virtue Ethics, Loob and Kapwa, p159)

Tampo is not constructive. It’s also not good if it’s done habitually. Even in this age where a great deal of verbal exchange is done electronically, tampo can still be expressed by simply not responding to texts or phone calls. If you are the recipient of the tampo and the relationship is essential to you, a stated intention for clarification as well as an act of humility can break the silence. 

Having the last word

Last night, I saw the 2019 Tagalog film, Family History (Michael V and Dawn Zulueta). Toward the end of the film, the terminally ill woman, who had previously confessed to her adulterous liaison with another married man, was attempting to communicate with her husband. She was encouraging her spouse to confront her about her affair.

The husband was naturally upset by the revelation. Although he attempted to ask a few questions, he opted to end the conversation since the details were simply too much for him to stomach. From then on, he began avoiding his wife, not only refusing to speak with her but also prohibiting her from explaining further.

This silencing became a divisive maneuver, putting the husband and wife at odds. Around the wedge, rage, frustration, and loathing grew. But then the woman went into a coma, and the husband realized how much he still needed to know, and how many things he still wanted to say. But he let silence infiltrate their connection. Silence does not foster love, respect, or compassion. It only generates animosity and more suspicion.

A similar scenario happened to me many years ago, and it taught me the importance of silence in relationships. My mother used to text me a lot. However, the majority of her stories were grim and focused on other people’s troubles. My mother, a Piscean, had a soft spot for the underdogs and would become enraged by stories of injustice. I used to get frustrated when she sent me such messages. 

I would sometimes switch off my phone or not respond to her straightaway. That way, I was silencing her, unaware that I was squandering the opportunity of creating and exchanging conversational memories with her. I didn’t realize it until she was gone.  Her passing made the silence between us more “tangible”.

I often hear this question: What about toxic family members or friends? Is it not healthy to remove them out of your life or go silent with them?

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In my opinion, the so-called “toxicity” of people we know is actually a reflection of the difficulties they are facing. We do not have to engage with their detrimental concerns, nor do we have to silence them. Allowing someone to vent can sometimes provide them with comfort. We may listen sympathetically without taking their problems personally.

Silencing someone who disappoints or frustrates us may provide a little reprieve, or even vindication, if you will. It appears that you, the one who initiated the silencing, will have the upper hand in this circumstance. However, situations such as physical separation, hearing or speech impairment, or even death will make you realize how much you genuinely wanted to talk to the other person or that there are still so many things you want to tell them that you will no longer be able to do so.

Talk while there is still time. As if there were no tomorrow – or next time.

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