The Dance of Voice and Silence

Hundreds of years from now, when people look back on this time, I think that one of the most important steps forward we will have made is an understanding and honoring of both speech and quiet, voice and silence. Being quiet, now, is considered to be a sign of weakness, of not having anything worth saying, of giving up the space to someone or something that is louder and more important.  Quiet, now, is a void to be filled with something worthwhile.  Speech, now, is something to be feared in others and is to be controlled lest unfettered truth, freedom, and a demand that all be treated with respect break out.  Today’s speech is so often loud and unyielding; a demand, not dialogue.

While being quiet is certainly not something unique to women, we have, in some ways become the Keepers of Quiet.  The many laws and rules made over the millennia silencing women attest to how often women have been told not to speak up. Finding our voices, sometimes literally as we learn to speak forcefully and to meet our own needs as well as those of the earth and its plants and animals and future humans, is a task of our generation. 

At the same time, today’s women can teach all humans of the future about voice and silence, the positive side of speech and quiet.  When speech and quiet become a dialogue to heal, to create bonds, to nurture, they become voice and silence.  Voice is what we have when we express the truth, when we speak for those – from planets to babies – who cannot speak for themselves, when we create a vision of what we would like the world to become.  Having a voice is not something just for famous poets and politicians and others like them.  Every time a woman teaches her children to have respect for others; sits quietly with a friend who is ill or sad; joins in a circle with other women and just witnesses, only giving wanted advice, or tells her story, knowing that others are truly listening; or any of a thousand other acts, she is practicing voice and silence.

In truth, voice and silence are deeply powerful and those who know how to practice it can create great transformation within themselves and in the outside world.  Knowing how to use silence is the ability to take the time to listen to and receive even that which does not come by sound.  When you are in true silence, you are able to enter into the flow of everything that is happening, not just hearing what you want, but truly participating and comprehending what is happening so that you may then use your voice in a way that can truly make a difference.  So often I will see a woman pausing to reflect or listen carefully and someone nagging her to respond to a question or act quickly.  But yet, how often have you resolved an argument between two people by saying “He may have said …, but what I think he meant was…” or said “I think if we wait a day, the problem will solve itself, because I’m pretty sure he will…” and you are right?  If so, you are a mistress of the power of voice and silence.

Trusting with silence and then truly communicating with voice is the greatest sign of real friendship and something that I see so much more often with women than men whom I know.  How often we spend hours, or lifetimes, endlessly talking because we cannot be in silence with one another. When we speak and someone is truly silent, we know that they have entered into the river of what we are saying; they are not just waiting for a turn to speak. When we stop talking for the sake of talking, truths come to our consciousness that we would need to say.  To trust a friend to be in silence together means that any truths that emerge can be voiced and discussed.   How different the world would be if we could, as nations and peoples, sit in silence with one another until truths emerged.  

Like giving birth, practicing voice and silence is creative.  Being silent with others or one’s self allows us the space to use our voices to create something new.  When we endlessly talk or have to respond to others’ endless talk, all we can do is revisit what has already been made.  Silence, even the shortest moments of silence, are really an infinite series of possibilities that need only be coaxed into a unique idea, thought, story, invention, way of being. Part of honoring silence and voice is demanding breaks from the constant chatter so that we may find and use our creativity.  How many times do women use the hours they spend alone to make their work unique to themselves, whether it is cooking up some new recipe that has never been eaten before or writing a novel at the kitchen table after working all day and spending the evening putting all the children to bed, or taking up painting at the end of life, after eighty years of employment, housekeeping, and child-raising?

How do we become the teachers of voice and silence?  By recognizing that it is special and that our quiet or our way of speaking is not weak or ineffectual, but powerful.  By practicing voice and silence and teaching others to do the same, whether our children, our spouses, our co-workers, or others.  By demanding that speech and quiet not be used against us or those we care about, but that our voices and silences be honored.  By ushering in our future by being our future.

By Carolyn Lee Boyd

Carolyn Lee Boyd’s essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in a variety of print magazines, internet sites, and book anthologies. Her writing explores goddess-centered spirituality in everyday life and how we can all better live in local and global community. In fact, she is currently writing a book on what ancient and contemporary cultures have to tell us about living in community in the 21st century. She would love for you to visit her at her website,, where you can find her writings and music and some of her free e-books to download.


  1. I have recently come to the conclusion that the silencing of our true voices is what has cut us off from our inner strengths and power as women. I have also just realized that men have been as well, but in a much different way. Once we can heal and rediscover those true voices, we will be able to heal all the wrongs in the world.

    Yes – the silence can be deafening when it is our own voices crying within us to be heard. I’m glad you found meaning in the post!

  2. “In truth, voice and silence are deeply powerful and those who know how to practice it can create great transformation within themselves and in the outside world.”

    This is a powerful and deeply insightful post. I feel the wisdom, beauty and depth of silence through your words…quite an accomplishment!

    One thing I’ve always loved and admired about Unprogrammed Quakerism is the practice of silent worship and silent prayer, without clergy, lay-ministers, singing or reading of scriptures. Unprogrammed Quaker worship focuses on silent communing with the Divine Light and Divine Truth, without pre-scripted liturgy. It is silent, yet simultaneously communal, with seating typically in a circular format.

    Although prayer is silent and unscripted, it’s open to impromptu contributions from individuals present, but one should only do so if deeply moved to share an epiphany or awareness that arose from Divine communing. Others present do not comment on or discuss the shared epiphany, everyone is left to absorb it and interpret it in their own way.

    Your post reminded me of the beauty and profundity of silent, unscripted Quaker prayer, something we’re quite unaccustomed to in traditional houses of worship. Exactly the opposite!

    Your last paragraph brings empowerment into the world of silence. Thank you, as always, Goddess sister.

    Thank you so much for this observation! I so admire the Quakers and this is a lovely description of their worship.

  3. There is so much profound truth in this post, it sends me reeling. You have packed so much into it, I am astounded. Thank you.

    Thank you so much! I’m glad you found meaning in it.

  4. What a beautiful and insightful post. As I read it, I too was thinking about Quaker Meetings. Once I heard a Quaker say that the best meeting was a completely silent one. When I have attended Quaker meeting, I have been touched by the quality of the silence — a feeling of being in community — and then felt privileged to hear others’ thoughts and insights, and the tapesty woven by the responses building on each other.

    What an interesting insight about silence weaving community! Thank you!

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