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  • Writer's pictureMike Gould

Listen to the quiet ones

We might like to pretend otherwise, but it's often the case that those who shout the loudest and ignore other voices, are those whose message we hear most regularly. It seems that to make your mark you have to make a noise. In any group, it can be difficult in the exchange of ideas and the overlapping, interrupting dialogue, to recognise the quiet one, the listener. And far too often, we don't bother to find out what they have to say.

I have been thinking of this a great deal recently after watching the wonderful Irish language film, 'The Quiet Girl' (check out the trailer here) which moved me, my wife and younger daughter to tears. It tells the story of a girl from a very poor family sent off for the summer to save money to distant, more well-off but childless relatives. One key moment is a wordless act of communication when the foster father passes a biscuit across the table to the girl in recompense for a mistake he has made. Here, the story-telling is enhanced by the reticence of the two characters. Indeed, the most voluble character - a neighbour encountered at a wake - is also one of the least attractive, her sharp, cruel questions designed not to enlighten but to wound.

As someone who himself talks too much, it may seem facetious of me to applaud those who do not foist opinion and comment on others at every given opportunity. I used to tell myself before publishing meetings not to say too much, to keep my counsel, to listen carefully and to reflect before I opened my mouth. Hmm. How did that go? Maybe not so well. I couldn't bear the thought of my voice not being heard - but then, almost immediately, I would experience a form of 'buyer's remorse', cursing myself for speaking when I didn't really have anything worthwhile to add. Of course, this wasn't always the case and I'm sure most of the time I was erudite and intelligent, cutting straight to the core of the issue (lol)!

How do we make sure the quiet ones are heard? I guess part of the process is to ask why they are not listened to. And whether that is a gender or race issue, and/or one related to psychological, social and cultural norms? People like me - white, male, middle-class, of a certain age - have always been more likely to be listened to because our audience was largely made up of similar people. Getting yourself heard in a room full of unfamiliar faces may be more tough. But I think there have always been the loud ones drowning out the quieter voices. Even amongst equals, confidence is lauded; silence taken for acquiescence or affirmation. And at that point it becomes a sort of invisibility: if you're not heard, perhaps you can't be seen either.

I ended up writing a song about it - 'Quiet Girl'.

The recording is a bit iffy (just done on my iphone so the voice is quieter (hah!) than it should be. But the words may do the song more justice than the music. It riffs on the film - which you must see, if you haven't already. It doesn't really need my words. As you will find out, it speaks for itself.

Quiet Girl - a theme for winter

There's a quiet girl

Staring from a car

Passing under green trees

Trailing her hand through air

It's summer but she knows

Winter's always near

She knows it means hunger

Running free no more..

And why do we let it happen?

Listening to the loud ones

When quiet ones should be heard?

There's a winding lane

A gate that's never open

A road to a better place

If she can ever find it.

And why do we let it happen?

Listening to the loud ones

When quiet ones should be heard?

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