The Hamilton Spectator

Speech fasting? No! Silence is not golden


How many words do you speak before noon?

I ask after reading a story in the Guardian this week: “Speech fasting: would staying silent until midday make us happier and healthier?” In other words: do we talk too much?

The story was about Scottish singer Lulu. On performanc­e days, she is mute until high noon: “She exists in a state of extended silence. She isn’t even allowed to whisper.”

Wow. I could have a good life with her.

Singers must nurture their vocal cords. Lozenges. Steam baths. Ginger tea. Humidifier­s. Power naps. Deep breathing. As with everything in life, it’s always about what not to do. Taylor Swift does not warm up for an Eras concert by gargling thumbtacks.

Lulu told the Guardian her silence is to “take care of my instrument.”

But for those of us who are not singers, the publicatio­n adds, “speech fasting has a multitude of benefits.”

Citing studies, these allegedly include a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol, neurologic­al growth and lower blood pressure.

Psychology Today published a story last year — “The Benefits of Not Talking” — that explored the impact on self-identity and social relationsh­ips when verbal communicat­ion is nixed for a day.

Spoiler alert: you become a better listener and more empathetic.

Is it possible we have entered an age of excessive chatter? I don’t think so. Bottling everything up was once seen as unhealthy. There are studies about how yakking with strangers is a balm for your soul. Or how talkative people tend to be perceived as more likeable. Have you ever lunched with a mime? It’s painful.

Is he telling me a story about a crankshaft or asking me to pass the pepper mill?

We talk to make sense of the world and to understand the people in our lives. I love being around raconteurs and raconteuse­s who never shut up. I’ve had tête-à-têtes with Uber drivers that were so fascinatin­g, I felt a twinge of sadness getting out of the car because I wanted to hear more. The other day, a waitress was telling me about her upcoming final exams and we swapped theories about class mobility. It was sweetly random — even if I suddenly felt an urge to tip 25 per cent.

If talking was an Olympic sport, I’d need to buy a bigger house to showcase my wife’s gold medals. She can talk about anything and she can do it all day long. Even when she’s sleeping, her lips are moving. It’s muscle memory. I didn’t marry a woman. I married an audio book. I don’t even know what chapter I’m on anymore. I just know another chapter is coming and I look forward to hearing it, along with watching her animated hand gestures.

So when I read a story in the New York Post this week — “The surprise benefits of speech fasting: Here’s what happens when you stay silent until midday” — I wanted to screech out my lungs: Nooooo! Silence is not golden!

What’s the next trend? Sight fasting? Lower your cholestero­l by closing your eyes and crossing an intersecti­on?

Now more than ever, we need to communicat­e. There is plenty of other “fasting” to test drive. Intermitte­nt fasting. Soul fasting. Circadian fasting. Corporate fasting. I’ve been Kardashian fasting for the last few weeks and my thinking has really improved.

But this is me putting a red X through speech fasting.

Talking is so important that studies suggest we should even talk to ourselves.

As a story in the Harvard Business Review pointed out in 2017: “One effective learning strategy is self explaining. This approach involves asking yourself explanator­y questions like, ‘What does this mean?’ It really helps to say them out loud. One study shows people who explain ideas to themselves learn almost three times more than those who don’t … Muttering to ourselves is not cool to do in public, but it’s crucial to self-explaining.”

Now, obviously, you want to pay heed to the “not cool to do in public.” Talking to yourself on the subway can be unsettling to other commuters. Vocalizing your innermost thoughts as you scrutinize radishes at Sobeys is unnecessar­y. Nobody needs a running commentary on root vegetables. Why are you even buying disgusting radishes?

But if you’re alone, by all means, strike up a conversati­on with yourself. Some of the most creative phrases that have shot out of my mouth have come when I’m alone behind the wheel and witness another motorist do something asinine. This is a family newspaper so I’ll leave it at that. But is it even practical for non-singers to go radio silent until noon every day?

There is no way for an auctioneer to mutely do that job.

So this is me giving a silent thumbs down to speech fasting.

Saying what’s on your mind is healthier than not saying anything at all.

Long live the talkers.

 ?? KRISTINA FLOUR UNSPLASH ?? Not speaking before noon supposedly has health benefits, but Vinay Menon says we must talk to make sense of the world and to understand the people in our lives.
KRISTINA FLOUR UNSPLASH Not speaking before noon supposedly has health benefits, but Vinay Menon says we must talk to make sense of the world and to understand the people in our lives.
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