Updated: Dec 13, 2021
It was not easy but we did not talk for 24 hours. Our friends at the Orange Effect Foundation hold an annual Silence Challenge to raise funds kids who need speech therapy but can’t afford it. Participants are asked not to talk for 24 hours. As a team focused on building empathy, we were all in! As we discussed the challenge, our team wondered how staying silent for 24 hours would affect us. Would it change us? This is what we learned.
Before the Challenge
To prepare for the challenge, we listed the things we thought would be difficult for us. For example, we knew it would affect our ability to communicate with others and make it more difficult to express our ideas. We also knew it would limit the use of certain features on our devices, like using voice to text on our phones.
During the Challenge
Ananya and Annika felt very strange not to be able to talk to other people. To communicate thoughts they used a lot of body movements--it was like a very long game of charades. There were many times they felt they couldn’t add ideas to a conversation quickly enough to really be part of it. They found it frustrating when people didn't understand what they were trying to tell them, and the people they were talking to looked like they were talking to themselves and felt they had to carry the weight of the conversation.
How it Changed Our Behavior
Margaret printed a page explaining that she couldn’t speak for 24 hours and why. She thought the sign would be useful, fun, and a good way to tell people about the challenge. However, once she got out in public, she realized she didn’t want to engage with anyone because she wouldn’t be able to explain much, and instead she found herself looking for the least chatty cashiers. She was surprised by the choices she made, and also that, for the most part, nobody noticed that she wasn’t speaking. When a cashier asked her a question that she couldn’t answer with body language, she was frustrated that she had to rely on someone else to answer.
What we Learned
We realized the importance that the environment around us played into how capable or frustrated we felt. For example, knowing basic sign language enabled us to communicate with those who also knew sign language, but not with people who didn’t.
Not being able to express ourselves how and when we wanted to affected us in the following ways:
Made it harder to feel a part of things
Affected how we behaved in public
Steered us toward less chatty people
Caused us to rely on others
Prevented us from speaking impulsively
Gave us time to think through what we really wanted to say
Brought home the important role of other people’s skills, patience, and effort.
It was a daunting but worthwhile challenge that made us more aware of our own tendencies, but also brought home the importance of supportive environments.
Completing this challenge left us more determined than ever to continue our mission to help students take the perspective of others. The Walk In My Shoes program includes activities that teach kids about a variety of medical and developmental conditions, including lack of speech. For more information about the programs, click here.