Semester 1 Issue 9
By Sonya Santa Maria
A closed mouth does not necessarily mean an empty soul. Silence does not necessarily mean stupidity. Indeed, stupidity is often inferred; but a quiet man may very well be a less burdened one.
There have been occasions where my silence has been misjudged as stupidity in the classroom, or mistaken by my friends and family as incompetence in communication; and whilst the underlying reason for my selective mutism is a fear many might dismiss as absurd and irrational, I fear that I am not alone in my silent predicament.
Believe it or not, silence can be solace.
If your mind is puzzled by that proposition, then this piece of writing may have achieved its aim of stimulating thought and appreciation for silence. Ponder its benefits and detriments, consider those around you who often remain silent, and more crucially, think deeply about why they choose to stay silent. Search beyond reasons such as their lack of effort, or understanding of a subject. Beyond indolence,until you reach fear. But still, probe deeper. The fear of being humiliated is one thing, but the fear of not knowing who you are anymore presents a different meaning of dangerous altogether.
It is one of the heaviest things to carry on your shoulders: people’s expectations. No one understands this more than an overachiever. When you have been the high achiever, ambitious, all-rounder, and golden child for a long time, you may find yourself leaning towards silence for comfort. Especially when you have people continuously reminding you that they are counting on you, and placing all their hopes in you.
The greater the expectations, the more stonelike one can become. We strive for nothing but perfection and glory because that is who we are according to these people, and years of having this self-perception ingrained in us means that nothing but greatness will be enough. To be anything else is to be someone else, and that is enough to evoke emotion within derail an overachiever.
It is not that we choose to be indifferent. Selective mutism and lack of expression capacity to articulate ourselves prevent us from showing weakness. Even if we choose to share our achievements with others, there is always a worry that it may only amplify others’ expectations of us and reinforce the lack of space for failure; the lack of space to be human.
Overachievers are not meant to underachieve. Scholarship recipients are not supposed to fail. Law students are supposed to be vocal and opinionated. Law students - especially Melbourne law students - must be the crème de la crème of the next generation of lawyers.
Yet, we my fellow ‘mute’ peers and myself often seem to be misjudged as emotionless beings. From my own personal experience, particularly in non-law school situations, my choice to be silent at times is often misread as arrogance and being anti-social. But when you have so much to do, yet so little time in your pursuit of perfection and conformity with people’s stratospheric expectations, there is no room for distraction and drama.
So, perhaps our silence is not arrogance. Maybe our silence is so that we do not allow for an opportunity to fail in another’s eyes, and in turn so that we can protect ourselves. Perfectionism can sometimes be the devil’s lure - in our pursuit for it, we divert so much energy that we often become robotic and void of emotions. But perhaps it is the very evidence that we feel emotions - it just happens to be an irrational fear of failing and disappointing you.