Coda: The Civility of Silence
WHEN I WAS a child, my tired father would return home from a day at the office, and he and my mother, equally exhausted from a day of coping with the house and five children, would sit alone in the living room, enjoying what came to be called their "quiet time." They would sometimes, but rarely, speak; more often, they simply sat there, perhaps sipping martinis, certainly unwinding together. We children well understood that these precious minutes were inviolable. We were not to interrupt for any cause short of broken bones. Not because my parents did not love us. Not because they did not want to be with us. But because they needed a period of peace, a moment of silence, to renew their energies--especially their emotional energies--before resuming the exhilarating, debilitating routine stress of being responsible for five fragile human lives.
The student of civility should value silence too. The sound, the noise, the sheer unrelenting loudness of our world combine to make civility difficult to achieve. The challenge of contemporary life is not so much that we are busy as that we are blasted around the clock with the sounds of our society: raucous music, insistent telephones, cynical newscasts, angry traffic. Small wonder that we seem so selfish. Small wonder that the polls say people think incivility is growing worse.1 Our world is too loud to grant us the life space to remember our duties to others: we seem to spend all of our time searching for bits of peace and quiet for ourselves.
And yet if we lose the vast silences that help define the sounds that fall between them, we may lose the ability to appreciate the transcendent. In a world full of noise, it is remarkably easy to