Taking a moment of silence to respectfully stand – sans talking, giggling or moving – has become a universal way to express solidarity, sadness, recognition and condolences during a time of grief (or during a time that prompts us to remember someone – or multiple people – who have lost their lives).
While it might feel like this tradition has been around forever – and you’ve likely never questioned where it’s come from – it actually hasn’t! So we thought we’d dive into the history of ‘a moment of silence’ to help our Willed community better understand why it’s so widely recognised and experienced by people all over the world.
The first moment of silence...
World War I, if you’re looking for a simple answer.
But if you’re looking for something a little deeper than that, it actually began in Cape Town, South Africa, during WWI. Sir Harry Hands (the Executive Mayor of Cape Town at the time) had recently said goodbye to his son, Reginald, who had died while fighting on the Western Front.
Sir Harry wanted to find a way to honour the soldiers who had been killed during the war, so he started holding 6-minute moments of silence every day to remember his son and the others who had died. Word got around the town, and the King (King George V, in case you were wondering) decided he loved the idea so much that it simply had to become common practice. He made an announcement on the 17th of November 1919 that on the 11th hour, the entire country would hold a 2-minute moment of silence to remember those who had lost their lives during the war.
Who says one man’s small action can’t make a lasting impact, hey?
Etiquette during a moment of silence
If you’ve experienced a moment of silence before, you’d know they’re usually quite brief (hence why they’re referred to as, ‘a moment’). But although they’re short, it’s important to abide by correct etiquette during this time to ensure you show utmost respect to those who are grieving and to truly honour the life (or lives) of the deceased.
Our recommendations for etiquette during a moment of silence include:
- Standing still with your arms by your side or clasped either in front of you or behind you.
- Bow your head humbly.
- Don’t talk, laugh or smile. Turn inwards and focus on your own stillness and silence while remembering the deceased and their cause of death.
I want to create my own moment of silence – how do I organise this?
If you’ve lost a colleague, students, a family member, community leader or someone important to you, you might want to organise a moment of silence that others can join in on at the same time on a certain day.
The good news is that you can create a moment of silence without seeking permission from anyone! How good is that?
Simply send a notice out to anyone who might be interested in participating, and stipulate the date and time the moment should occur. It’s also important to let everyone know how long the moment will go for; 1-2 minutes is a duration that most are happy to carve out of their day.
You can also make announcements at community events, dinners or gatherings, asking everyone to join in for a moment of silence while you’re all there together. There’s no need for a lengthy speech or pep talk; the moment is often more than enough to communicate something extremely important and impactful.