Our world is full of noise. We hear the literal voices of people around us. We listen to massive amounts of media – music, TV, podcasts. And we have been become addicted. As soon as we get in an elevator, wait in a line, or have a hint of quiet, we pull out our cell phones and end the silence by clicking on apps. Perhaps the great and terrible invention of this technological age is the eradication of silence. Forget driving and texting; I live in New York City, people can’t even walk without checking their phones.
Why are we so averse to silence? What is it about the quiet that terrifies us so? Yesterday, I went to a bar to say farewell to a coworker. I was sitting in the middle of the table and two conversations happened, splitting the table right down the middle. And I was on the fault line! It took about two seconds before I felt weird and found myself reaching for my phone to rescue me.
The default setting of our minds is simple: protect what is there. Patterns. Consistency. Comfort and familiarity. The noise helps us do that even as it becomes part of the pattern itself.
The reason we accepted all the noise is for this very reason. We wanted to drown out the silence. We want to hush the quiet. Just as the best place to be alone is often in a crowd, sometimes the best way to drown out a voice is through a flood of voices.
What happens in the absence of these patterns? Discomfort. Challenge. Growth. If we stand in that elevator without checking our phone, we have to think about something. We have to think about how uncomfortable we feel and why we might be feeling so strange.
Pursuing silence is beneficial because it makes room for us to consider what matters. To come to new conclusions. To innovate new ways of being. Silence is a mirror. The noise clouds the mirror so that we don’t have to look at ourselves.
The Shout of Silence
Paradoxically, we long for the quiet. This is why city people love nature. We like the quiet when we can control and maintain it. And there is nothing wrong with that – at first.
Silence speaks to us with an ominous, transcendent, and mysterious kind of clarity. The silence shouts at us. He screams at us to remember our dreams. Or to remember who we are or what matters or what we promised.
Silence is a weapon. It allows us to check in with ourselves, to evaluate what matters and what needs to be changed.
Silence is the only inroad to peace. IN a world obsessed with productivity, we need quiet, stillness, silence, in order to rest. To rejuvenate our soul. To give our ears and our anxieties a break!
Fear keeps us from progress. Fear shackles us. And our fear of awkward pauses has led to rampant defensiveness, aggression, and partisanship in this world. We don’t know how to talk to each other, what team we are on, what really matters to us, or who we really are – individually or collectively.
We are dying. Humanity is literally, metaphorically, and spiritually wasting away. Our values have corroded. We are melting away, merging into the noise like a moth to a bug-zapper or Odysseus to the siren’s call.
Silence can save us. Quiet. Discomfort. Questions. Listening. The secret to getting back on track as an individual and as a society is not being heard but hearing. Not speaking but listening. Not more noise on the pile, but more silence in our hearts, minds, and souls.