After reading about Stoicism I decided to put one of its core principles, negative visualization, to the test. The principle is that we can learn to appreciate what we have by imagining being without it. Then we can begin to be truly grateful for what we have. But how could I conduct my experiment?
Not wearing a winter jacket seamed too temporary as I wouldn’t be outside for long. Sleeping in the dirt of my backyard or walking around blind folded seemed extreme. But not talking for 24 hours, that offered best of both worlds. Inconvenient enough to make a difference but safe enough that I wouldn’t walk blindfolded into oncoming traffic. Thus, I did the husbandly thing and I told my wife five minutes after I decided to go silent via a text message.
And so it Begins
I cheated a bit by starting on my bus commute home Friday evening. It’s a quiet bus and people don’t usually speak. My first slight test was thanking the bus driver as he let me out at my stop. I had to give a polite head nod and wave. Then came coming home to my kids excited to see me and start the weekend, only to leave them dumbfounded, “Why are you not talking?” My first realization that I would not be able to communicate with my children left me sad.
Now for the first real challenge. We were going to a girl scout’s event with my daughter that involved some social interaction. When we first saw my wife’s friend who organized the event my wife had to explain that I was not speaking for twenty-four hours, for reasons that my wife barely understood. Well this went over like a bag of bricks. I wish I had a picture of the look on her face, he’s not doing what? Her questions ranged from asking if I was sick to is it for religious observation. I just stood there and waved with a smile on my face. As the event continued, I resorted to ignoring people by standing far away to avoid the awkward confrontation. Making me realize how lonely people must feel who truly cannot speak, such as a victim of throat cancer.
After getting home and putting the kids to bed, which I was unable to read my kids a book, I figured out how to make my cell phone speak for me. I was able to type a message and have the text read out loud. Some may say this is cheating, but the challenge was not to speak. Communicating was allowed, such as head nods, grunts, and actively playing charades.
In the morning my daughter and I went to get bagels. Which was a perfect life lesson of her ordering on her own. I was proud of her effectively communicating the order request. The rest of the morning was uneventful, but I was surprised to learn that parenting was a bit easier. As I was doing yard work and the kids ran up to me with a dispute, I simply shrugged my shoulders and was unable to offer assistance. Leaving the kids to figure things out on their own.
Ready to Quit
Around 21 hours into my experiment I was contemplating speaking figuring as what else would I learn? But, I pushed on to achieve my goal of a full 24 hours. I am happy I did because that is when I learned the most. The kids wanted to go to the playground. I took them since, well, how could I say no? There was another father there with his two kids. He was outgoing and friendly as could be. My kids played with his and he gave a friendly hello. I was not able to verbally answer, instead I offered a wave and a smile, while once again resorting to keeping my distance.
Now let’s not sugar coat it, this is just plain weird. This is not a normal thing for a healthy person to do. But, imagine if this was real. Imagine the constant isolation and awkwardness that people who are not able to speak feel. Not interacting with other parents at the playground was the first time this was no longer a fun game of charades and really made me appreciate my voice.
You can tell people all you want about the dangers of smoking but have them try this for 24 hours or even 48 hours. Not being able to speak to your children or even the casual conversation when meeting someone for the first time is really eye opening. The little things we take for granted, such as ordering a pizza over the phone. Try doing that without a voice! Yes, I know you can order food online.
Another interesting moment is when I was communicating with my four-year-old. He was not “listening” and was disobeying my body language of me pointing to get out of the shower. I finally resorted to stomping my feet to get his attention and convey my disapproval at his behavior. My wife later pointed out that I was acting like a toddler. Well, how else can a toddler communicate? They may not have ability to speak or most likely do not have the vocabulary to express themselves.
When I finally did start speaking again, something unexpected happen. I barely recognized the sound of my voice. I was surprised by the sound of what I was saying. It was most similar to hearing a recording of yourself and not recognizing the sound, but in this case, there was no recording. It took about 10 minutes for this to go away.
In the end the experiment was a success, albeit the relationships I will have to repair after flat out ignoring people instead of handing them a piece of paper saying I was on a stoic journey. I still don’t know which the better approach is. But at the end of the 24 hours I truly appreciated my ability to speak. To be able to warn my kids if they were doing something dangerous for them to avoid, telling a story, or something as simple as saying hello and thank you to people.
I encourage you to try to this experiment or something similar, as well as leave comments of your experience. It can be very eye opening and lead you to be more understanding of others with disabilities. At the very least it will make you not take for granted many of the things that we have that may be under appreciated in everyday life.