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Why 2 minutes silence? March 1, 2011

Posted by Ian in Miscellaneous.

The PM has called for 2 minutes silence at 12:51pm today for the Canterbury earthquake and a great many organisations are heeding the call including TV stations and universities among many others.  

The reasons for this are interesting and have been reported in various places (newspapers, emails, radio etc) including the following:

  1. To honour victims…
  2. To pay tribute to the victims…
  3. To pay respects to the victims…
  4. To remember the victims…
  5. To express solidarity with the people of Canterbury…

The first three items in that list are, in my opinion, empty concepts.  What exactly does one do to “pay respects” or to “honour” to someone?  Is the silence sufficient or do you have to think something in particular?  What is special about silence?  Why not 2 minutes of “shouting at the top of your lungs good things about the victims”?  My point here is not to belittle the deaths but rather to avoid trivialising them with empty gestures.  What do these phrases actually mean?

In a sense I think a moments silence has become like card giving for birthdays or Christmas – you do it because you are “supposed to” and feel better because you didn’t not do it.  The moments silence is much the same.

I also think many people tend to “endure” a moments silence rather than actually doing anything through it, mostly because it is such an awkward thing not to do while other people are doing it.  In that sense it is a slightly false gesture since it isn’t completely genuine anyway.

The fourth item is really only something for those close to the victims but I doubt they are in danger of forgetting any time soon, and it doesn’t require an entire nation to follow suit, and for many people it would be impossible (for example I personally didn’t know any of the victims so remembering them is a futile exercise).

The fifth item is interesting and perhaps the closest to the only possible practical outcome of this exercise, which is for those affected to feel that others know about and support them.  Of course if they haven’t figured out that the country is with them out by now, this gesture isn’t going to help.

There is nothing stopping individuals from doing all five things on that list in their own time, own way and according to their own understanding.  I don’t get why we need to grandstand it with a nation-wide gesture that most people won’t understand and are doing just because they think they shouldn’t not do it.


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