BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
I first discovered the awesome power of silence in 1991 on a school trip to Medjugorje in what was then Communist Yugoslavia. I’d been convinced by my friend David to go on the trip to witness the amazing miracle of Our Lady of Medjugorje. This is the title given to the apparition by those who believe that Mary, Mother of Jesus, regularly appears (from 24th June 1981 until this day) to six (then) children. I didn’t believe a word of it then. David’s “Yugoslavian beer is only 5p a pint” swung it for me in 1991 … I was an easily convinced Luddite. I don’t believe a word of it now, either.
Three things convinced me that Medjugorje was a well-martialed rip-off. First, the guides insisting we all look into the sun to see the face of Mary and rejoice at how the sun “bounced” in the sky (just try looking at the sun – you can see Kermit in there if you look hard enough while your eyes water away). Second, the endless stalls in such an impoverished place selling Miracle of Medjugorje paraphernalia and the usual Vatican tat. And, finally, crucially, the strictly regulated silence of the children. After a couple of days in Medjugorje, I’d had enough of this miracle rot. I succumbed to the mortal pleasure of mixed grills in the local eateries and kicked around a football with the locals – not knowing that inside a year they would be warring – while gullible David’s whining belly suffered from yet another fast day.
I was reminded of Medjugorje recently by write-ups on the Silent Miracle Croatian healer, Braco, whose admirers number the many thousands including the supermodel Naomi Campbell. Braco has amassed an international following and generated significant income with his claims to heal people by simply gazing at them with the expression of a wounded meerkat. Of course, Braco cannot defend himself as he doesn’t speak – a huge advantage for any wannabe false prophet.
Braco’s a neat trick – staring for cash is surely a splendid occupation. The fact is that if he opened his mouth he’d not have nearly as many followers. And so silence is a neat trick. It’s an age-old device to make the viewer do all the thinking – it all boils down to dragging people unwittingly out of their comfort zone and putting them in the kind of position they really wouldn’t put themselves in otherwise. There’s no coincidence – as he sought to accumulate the readers’ fear – in the fact that HG Wells’ Martians were silent operators. A salesperson’s most valuable positioning tool is often silence – it unsettles the client into opening their own mouths and eventually their cheque books. The best way to drive serial bullies, trolls and stalkers up the wall is to not react to them – give them a huge dose of silence with a hair-flick of superiority and they soon go off and smash yet another mirror.
So, those people who complain about our Prime Minister, Theresa May’s, aloofness and silence would do well to remember Medjugorje, Braco, HG Wells and clever salespeople. Their success – whether they are sound or not – depends on intelligent use of the awesome power of silence.
As Confucius wrote (presumably in silence), “Silence is a true friend who never betrays”.
May is no Cameron or Blair – responding to every story and rumour in the press with a speech or statement. May sits there quietly. Silently. Aware of all around. Stubbornly waiting for her time to gob-pounce in a prepared manner; usually with a thorough, detailed speech or a carefully-lathed soundbite.
I presume May’s silence has been coached by wise students of Machiavelli.
May’s joint chief adviser Nick Timothy was recently accosted by Channel 4’s Michael Crick on Whitehall as he left Westminster tube station. Puffing, sweaty Crick kept up with Timothy for the full few minutes between the tube and Downing Street. What was Timothy’s response to Crick’s several questions about election expenses? How did Timothy react to having a rather large, hairy microphone lobbed under his bearded chin like some hirsute mate?
You guessed it.
Never underestimate its awesome power.