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Make Silence


Published: 06/11/2014

by Jim Campbell

In London, in the year 1701, the High Court of the Admiralty was convened to try Captain William Kidd on many charges – from piracy on the high seas to the murder of a sailor. After a voyage fraught with disease, desertion, threats of mutiny and, worst of all, the failure to gain rich booty for his backers, Captain Kidd was arrested in Boston and taken to London in chains. Minutes after the courtroom was opened, it was crowded with people interested in the outcome and onlookers there for the show.


Together, as those in the crowd talked and called out to each other, the noise level created a festival atmosphere. At the appointed time, the Bailiff of the Court stood before the dais the judges would occupy, and using his most powerful voice, cried out, “Make silence!” When the silence was achieved, the judges filed in and the trial began.


I haven’t found if the Bailiff’s words were customary in the courts of Britain back then or were unique to that bailiff. However it was, it represents an interesting way to think about silence. When we want to get attention in a room, we typically ask people to please stop talking, to hush up, to keep it down or to be quiet.


These are basically negative requests. On the other hand, the announcement to ‘make silence’ challenges people to do something, to create something that was not present, to be involved as an active participant. Silence is something that needs to be made; it

is seldom if ever found in a natural state. In our noisy world, we know how hard it is to find a quiet corner, let alone make silence.


This highlights the fact that a lot of the advice given out on how to improve our lives – how to do better, to be a better person, to make the world a better place – falls into the ‘thou shalt not’ category. For example, stop eating the wrong foods, stop drinking so much, stop smoking, stop wasting your time, stop being angry, stop complaining, stop lollygagging around, don’t be so critical and, not surprisingly, don’t be so negative. Well, the list may be seemingly endless, but there is a rising market for ‘thou shalt nots’ in our age.


It’s a strange reality. Changes are made in our lives and society through positive actions (like making silence). Eating habits change when someone decides to get healthy. Smokers quit when they want to extend their life-span. Drinkers change when they decide to take control of their lives. Anger is sidetracked by kindness as we develop empathy for the pains and struggles of others. Complainers manage to change when they begin to be thankful for what they have.


The way people who are overly critical move into a better and happier place in their lives is by developing the habit of looking for, and counting, what is right, what is working, who is doing well.


That’s the trick! Embark on a new track and the old ways fade away.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you, Captain Kidd was convicted and duly hung for his crimes. Actually, he was hung twice. The first time, the rope broke! 


Jim Campbell is an Oakville author, writer and longtime contributor to Home Digest. He also blogs at We welcome your comments on this column at


Illustration for Home Digest by Rui Ramalheiro

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