The first time I listened to Beethoven’s Fifth, my father said, “Listen for the silence. It says as much as the sound.” It was thus, as a ten-year-old, I listened to our young President say, “Let the word go forth, from this time and place, that the torch has been passed, to a new generation of Americans, born in this century…” I heard short musical and lyrical phrases, each followed by a profound pause, to emphasize the message, to let the meaning sink in.
Silence speaks volumes. It tells me when it’s safe to cross a busy street. It tells me the rain has stopped. It means safety or signals peril. “It’s quiet,” said Butch Cassidy. “Maybe too quiet,” replied the Sundance Kid. Then there was the curious case of the dog in the night time whom, simply by doing nothing and remaining silent, Sherlock Holmes found most curious.
Blindness has subtracted my primary source of information. Yet, only without it have I come to realize how the visual kaleidoscope distracted from the essence of the scene. Bright, shiny objects prevented clarity. I find that voices reveal as much as faces, as fidgeting fingers or averted eyes. Clarity for me is now found in the interplay of silence and speech, the rate, the tone, the tenor of the voice that confirms or betrays the happy face, the sunny conversation, the spotless presentation. Eyesight may be gone, but my ear for congruence and dissonance is fine-tuned.
The validity of auditory learning is borne out in the example of the trial lawyer who derails expert witnesses by listening for the nuances of speech and voice, for unintended but revealing pauses indicating uncertainty and doubt. This true-life trial lawyer is sighted, yet he relies on sound and silence as hard evidence. Similarly, my therapist friend chooses telephone counseling sessions over Skype for distant clients because she finds the visual novelty of Skype distracts from the process. .
Through necessity, I have become an auditory learner. At first, I felt very disadvantaged. Learning was more challenging, more difficult. But I am comfortable in both process and results. Sure, I’d like to see, in a millisecond glance, if that loose dog looks friendly or menacing. But I haven’t been bit (pregnant pause) yet. I’m playing the hand I was dealt. This hand isn’t a winner all the time, but at least I’m staying in the game.