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When You Say Nothing At All

October 20, 2021

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never shared

– Sounds of Silence

I love this song. It took on greater meaning when I learned American Sign Language. Using ASL I can talk without speaking. My friends can hear without listening. And I’ve seen multiple songs that voices never shared.

During my missionary service for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I worked with a man named Elder Randal. He was a CODA. A Child of Deaf Adults. He was deaf from birth. At one point we were at a McDonalds. Our name tags and white shirts marked us as missionaries. Our signing conversations attracted some stares.

At one point a man caught my friend’s eye. The man passed his hand in front of his face and then made a thumbs up sign. I’m fluent in American Sign Language. Those two signs together meant nothing to me. I had no clue what the man was trying to communicate. My companion seemed to understand him perfectly.

What did he mean?

Ah. . .he was telling me. . .how nice he thinks I look

Oh. . .

The old guy was hitting on my friend. Ugh.

Maybe it’s my background in sign language, but I’ve always found unspoken communication fascinating. What are we saying when we don’t say anything?

We have a staff meeting every Tuesday morning. It’s a small company. Many of the employees have been there for years. I’m new. And recently we added another new face. It’s interesting to watch people come into the meeting. My first meeting, I took a seat in the middle. It happens to be at the head of the table. I chose it on purpose. It didn’t put my back to either door. It was equally distant from both sides of the table and all the chairs.

It was someone else’s seat. As more people came in, there was a disruption in their patterns. I’m not sure whose seat I took. But, that person sat somewhere else. But, he bumped another person. As they entered the room, you could notice the same disruption in their pattern. After a few weeks everyone was comfortable in their new seats.

And then we hired another programmer. And he came to his first staff meeting and the entire pattern was repeated. Being prepared for it, I watched it unfold. There were no words spoken, but an entire conversation took place.

In my church, communion, or the sacrament, is delivered to the congregation by young men aged 12 and 13. They take trays with bread and water and deliver them to every person sitting in the chapel. Sometimes that is a lot of people. Generally 10 or 12 boys carry the trays to the members. It’s important that EVERY member have the opportunity to partake of the sacrament.

There’s a pattern, of course. The first boy (they hold the priesthood office of deacon) delivers the sacrament to the people sitting on the stand. The second deacon starts at the first pew of the people sitting on the left. And so on. They are actually very efficient. It only takes them about 10 minutes to cover 200 people or so.

It’s sometimes interesting to sit in the back of the chapel and watch them go through the pattern. At times things get out of sync. Maybe a row is only half filled. Maybe someone got out of step. Maybe one of the boys is new. At that point the boys have to make sure everyone has a chance to partake of the sacrament.

They communicate. But, often not with words. A senior boy might nod his head to indicate a missed row. A new boy might give a confused look that is answered with a glance.

I do a lot of Zoom meetings. Even with people in my own office. We leave our cameras off, but even with meetings where they are on, we lose a lot from our communications when we don’t interact.

A lot gets said when we don’t say anything at all.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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