My first name begins with a silent letter so alliteration exercises in primary school weren’t fun. “Happy Hsu-Ann” doesn’t alliterate and “super Hsu-Ann” looks like it doesn’t alliterate even though it does. Yet the silent H is a familiar and essential part of who I am. (So is the awkward pause and ensuing mispronunciation every time someone realises they’re going to have to read my name out loud, but that’s another story).
My silent H got me thinking about the value of silence, particularly since this year has been pretty noisy in social media land. Our culture tells us we all have a voice and we deserve to be heard. That when it comes to injustice, silence is complicity. While I don’t deny there is truth in this (my next post will touch on this), I’m also learning to hold my tongue – and my keyboard.
I like to think the silent H at the start of my name is the pause before I speak.
Pausing looks like having someone I trust read a piece before I publish it. This practice has helped me put more thought into why I’m writing and why I want to share what I’m writing. It’s the blogging equivalent of thinking before I speak.
The more talk, the less truth;Proverbs 10:19 (MSG)
the wise measure their words.
The one who knows much says little;Proverbs 17:27 (MSG)
an understanding person remains calm.
I like to think the silent H in my name is a symbol of listening.
Listening looks like taking the time to understand the arguments of others and my own emotions before saying anything.
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry …James 1:19 (NIV)
A fool vents all his feelings,Proverbs 29:11 (NKJV)
But a wise man holds them back.
Bombarded by news and opinions on one polemic or another, I can feel my own feelings churning in response. My emotions amplify the noise in my mind and further cloud my thinking. I’ve found it’s not a good place for me to write from.
This is the tension I experienced at the start of the year, between desperately wanting to say something and not wanting to add to the noise. The Australian bushfires were tragic enough in themselves – and then the blame game and the opinions started rolling in. I drafted a post, I reworked it several times to try and get to the heart of what I was trying to express.
And I didn’t find anything worth saying.
I was pretty close to pushing the button and I’d even collected photos from friends to use in the post. But when I shared my draft with two people close to me and they asked me what point I was trying to make, I realised I was just angry about the situation. I was angry both about how it was being handled and how people were responding to it, and I wanted to vent. I wanted to vent and I didn’t really have a point or anything but vitriol to add to the already toxic debate.
So I didn’t publish it.
That’s just one example. I absolutely recognise the temptation to jump on hot button topics and get timely content out into the world. I wrestled with this when I drafted but did not publish three iterations of a post on same-sex marriage. I wrestled with this when I considered posting on the coronavirus and Black Lives Matter.
And at the end of each wrestle was a decision not to hit “publish” – a decision in favour of silence.
According to one of my trusted editors, to comment on every topical issue would somehow cheapen the content that I do have more authority on, when what I say is worth a little more.
This wrestle over whether and how to speak is teaching me to see what I write as a gift to you, my reader. It means both valuing and being proud of what I’m able to create as a writer, but also honouring who my audience is. It means being silent, sometimes.
There are currently 36 drafts in the back end of this site. Some of them are complete but will not be published. Others are beginnings of ideas that I may or may not return to. And that’s for the best.
Silence, I’ve discovered, is about knowing my own voice.
When I lived in Bolivia, my friends and then my colleagues started calling me “Hsuper Hsu”. I am flattered and absolutely love that someone thought to add an h to super rather than remove the H from mine or use an adjective beginning with s. I’d rather be hsuper than super. I’d rather start with a little silence.
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Header image: Kristina Flour.