Leadership Resources

Leadership Resources from the Carlson Executive MBA Program

Silence: A Social History of One of the Least Understood Elements of our Lives

This study by Jane Brox examines the role and effects of silence in penitentiaries and monasteries over many years. While silence was once imposed on prisoners as a punishment, it was freely accepted by those entering monasteries as a means of deepening their spiritual lives. Nineteenth-century prison founders believed that isolation and silence would lead to convicts’ redemption but failed to see potential dangers in such practices, including a loss of contact with reality and risk of insanity. In contrast, monastic silence was not absolute but intermingled with chanting, reading aloud, and limited conversation. Silence and isolation are now gone from most American prisons, and many monasteries closed, their silent lives vanishing in an increasingly noisy world. Brox’s balanced account shows both the positive and negative aspects of silence and points out the need to be attuned to our inner voice in a world of constant distractions.