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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Silence of Signs

The second of the "five silences" is the "Silence of Signs". Like all the silences, this virtue is not about not giving any external signs, but rather of 1) bringing our body language (especially facial expressions) under our conscious control, and 2) using our body language with charity in kindness and truth. As Fr. Joseph Lackner says in his book Virtues for the Mission, "The discipline of this virtue involves being intentional about the way we act and developing a repertoire of behaviors which invite rather than stand in the way." (p. 14)

Most of us have had the experience of receiving a withering look from someone we respected, looked-up to, loved, or whose approval we desired. Most of us have been a single person on the outside of a group bunched together in close conversation, and felt the sting of "being left out". If we are honest with ourselves, we are also sometimes the person giving the withering look or using non-inviting body language to keep someone else away/out. These are the kinds of behaviors that the virtue of "silence of signs" invites us to examine and transform.

Father Chaminade recognized that our facial expressions, eye-contact (or lack thereof), and body language send powerful and clear messages. His challenge to us is to become more aware of this aspect of ourselves. In some ways, I think this is one of the hardest virtues to practice, for two reasons: 1) unless I look in a mirror, I cannot see myself or my facial expressions as I go through my day; and 2) my facial expressions and body language flow from my sub-conscious and are thus even more difficult to control than my speech!

This is the virtue I personally find the most difficult. I know that my face is very expressive, and I know I have a "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard" look; and try as I might, I have yet to purge that instinctive look. I know that it is neither uplifting nor charitable for me to give someone such a contemptuous look, but because it is instinctive, and because I cannot see my own face (although I have a good sense of what this "look" "feels" like), I struggle with this one.

Above, I mentioned a book by Fr. Joseph Lackner entitled Virtues for the Mission, which is published by NACMS in Dayton, Ohio. I highly recommend this text for anyone interested in learning more about Chaminade's "System of Virtues". It is probably the best modern resource available on this topic. I regularly re-read it to encourage self-examination.

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