Positive Power of Silence Winning Essays

Circle Cities With Love - Cleveland hosted an essay contest for high school students and recent graduates. We are thrilled to share the first, second, and third place winners: Hannah Ross, Natalie Quellos and Dean Rosen. Thanks to all who entered!

Hannah read her essay at the 2018 Circle Cities With Love - Cleveland event.

FIRST PLACE - Hannah Ross, Strongsville

For a moment, imagine. An orchestra is seated on a stage, the members noisily warming up before the concert. You settle back in your velvety seat to wait. The audience seated around you chatters in anticipation, and soon the lights dim. The sounds fade to a murmur.

Then, with a collective deep breath, the orchestra begins to play. The movement is loud and energizing, with fast runs in the strings, excited blasts in the brass section, and enormous crashes from the percussion. The musicians all sway in unison, and with lines of concentration on their foreheads, their faces show joyous exhilaration in the act of making music. Suddenly, the music crescendos, ever increasing its piercing intensity.

And then, abruptly, silence, pure silence.

Bows hang suspended above the string, trumpet bells are held at attention, the conductor’s arms are raised above his head, motionless. Every person in the hall holds their breath, stunned by the silence. Somehow the impact of the moment is louder than the music that came before it.

Then, the music breaks the spell. It swells from the stage until the finale brings thunderous applause. As the audience files out you are swept along towards the exit. Still, you remain overwhelmed by the feeling of that single moment of silence and the strange power that the moment held over you.

We are surrounded, always, by noise. Every day there is another tragedy to discuss, opinion to form, person to debate or to confront or just simply to blame. In all the chaos, too often, we hear our own voices without hearing the voices of others. The constant blare bombarding us from every direction creates nothing more than a painful static.

Our brains are wired to notice things like our own names, familiar voices, or children crying. But under the stress of constant cacophony even these are lost. What is left to hear but silence? We should never stop crying out until every last injustice in our world is repaired.

But sometimes, in all the noise, we forget to listen. Sometimes we forget to listen to those around us, and sometimes, even worse, we forget to listen to ourselves and to the words that we are saying. When we forget to listen we forget to understand and to love and to respect. I hope to remember the impact of silence. Before I speak, before I act, before I react, I hope that I can remember that magical, powerful feeling. Because in silence there is listening and in listening there is compassion and love and understanding, for our world, for others, and for ourselves.

SECOND PLACE - Natalie Quellos, Strongsville

After a long day, coming home and flipping on the local news can be a risky endeavor for anyone. It’s probably best to prepare yourself for the bombardment of negative emotions associated with mounting political and social tension, the local crime reports, and new research that states that the best “staycation location” is definitely not located in your city. In fact, even when it seems that someone is doing good, there are always those who believe the exact opposite. Two sides warring for dominance in a world that values opinionated leaders.

We are taught that our opinions are valuable. However, our opinions need validation before they are invaluable. This leads to a cacophony of voices in an ever growing atmosphere of insurmountable tension. It’s loud, but to many, it’s better than the perceived notion of silence.

But why are we scared of silence?

Many of us have probably felt the emotions associated with silence: loneliness, fear, abandonment. However, silence has more of a positive impact on us than the bass at a concert or the hum of a crowded room.

Recently, I read the children’s book The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld. The book begins by introducing a child named Taylor. The child builds a tower out of blocks, but later the tower falls over leaving Taylor upset. Afterward, different animals come to comfort Taylor. The chicken wants to talk about the problem, the elephant wanted to remember what happened, the ostrich hides from the conflict, and the snake wanted to knock down someone else’s tower. Taylor didn’t want to do any of these things and all the animals left feeling dejected. Finally, the rabbit comes along and sits down beside Taylor. They sit in silence for a while and even though Taylor did not say anything the rabbit listened.

Although this is just a children’s story, it has a profound message for both young children and adults alike: Silence is powerful. Silence is a symbol of solidarity with the capacity to inspire and invoke stronger emotions than yelling. Opinions are important, but in silence, there is the essence of true solidarity. I’m sure we all know what it feels like to be more alone in a room full of people than to actually be alone. Those with the loudest voices will undoubtedly bring change, but they need support to accomplish their goals. The people who listen in silence are the true leaders in society, as we give power to leaders and each other through our support. 

It’s in our nature to be the chicken, elephant, ostrich, and snake in Taylor’s story. It’s a challenge to be the rabbit. However, the great thing about silence is that it can always be practiced. With silence comes love and peace when practiced in great numbers. In a world that can’t stop talking, we should all strive to be the rabbit and to listen to the sound of silence.

THIRD PLACE - Dean Rosen, Brookpark

If you’ve ever been given the cold shoulder, you’ve felt the pit that forms in your stomach. If you’ve ever been to a funeral, and they ask for a moment of silence, you feel the emotion freeze the room. If you’ve ever taken even a second to stand for something you believe in, you’ve had a moment of your own silence. Whether it was because you were too tired to keep yelling, to keep screaming, you knew that silence could be just as loud.

It can be deafening - it can drive people insane. I believe silence has more impact than any other means of protest the world can come up with. Silence can tell someone in a hundred different ways if something is truly wrong. Sure, people can groan and complain and hiss, but if someone loud and obnoxious actually went silent, that might be the only time they’re really heard.

Silence can be negative, but for the way the world is today, it might be exactly what everyone needs. People are used to the shouting, the protestors breaking things or marching for days on end; but I think no one actually would be prepared for a silent march. It would catch on with how social media and news carries nowadays, and soon, people all over would be going silent for what they believe in. Silence is deafening. And with enough of it people would start to notice.

Because if the whole world one day went silent, I think that’s the only time people would actually listen.