Noodle* on this…
Quietness is the beginning of virtue. To be silent is to be beautiful. Stars do not make a noise. ~ James Stephens
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. – Max Ehrmann, Desiderata
We live noisy lives. Planes, trains, automobiles, cell phone ringing, music played over loudspeakers, all add to the noise of life. This constant noise affects our ability to function, think and learn. It exhausts us and interferes with our ability to hear and understand speech according to Professor Gary W. Evans, PhD, at Cornell University.
Unfortunately, there is little we can do about all this ambient noise. In fact, we are so accustomed to noise that silence makes some people uncomfortable, as in the phrase deafening silence.
When I was in college, I took a counseling skills course. There were about a dozen students in the class and on the first day, the professor had us sit in a circle – like a group therapy circle. He joined us in the circle and said absolutely nothing for a few minutes. But it seemed like forever!
In just a few seconds, we students were looking at each other, squirming in our seats and clearing our throats. All the while, the professor sat quietly looking at his hands resting in his lap. Then, the students started asking questions and making comments. When that did not evoke any response from the professor, the talking died off and we all sat silently. Finally without looking up, the professor started reporting, without any notes, what various students said and did during the silent time. Then he looked up, made eye contact with each of us and said, Your most powerful skill is the ability to be silent and listen.
The Power of Silence
There is power in silence. Specifically, being silent:
- Gives us the time to think things through and sort out our emotions.
- Helps us solve problems while remaining calm.
- Helps us in our work.
- Gives us peace.
Sometimes, when we are silent, we must face our fears. This helps us develop wisdom and strength according to people like Lao Tzu (500 BC) who taught that silence is a source of great strength and Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626 AD) who defined silence as the sleep that nourishes wisdom. Even the writers of the Old Testament understood the importance of silence. Proverbs 17:28 tells us: Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.
However, remember that silence, like any other power can be misused, when it is used to punish others or show anger.
What happens in silence?
When we are silent we can hear and understand what others are saying. Being silent in a conversation means actually listening to the other person, not thinking about what we want to say or what to have for dinner. When we listen silently, we hear the person’s tone of voice; notice the words they stress; notice their body language; and hear what the person is actually saying. Silence gives us what doctors call a tincture of time, meaning it gives us the time and space necessary for compassion, wisdom, peace and understanding.
In addition, when we listen to others in courteous, attentive silence, they are more like to return the favor by listening to us without interrupting.
Your Noodling Challenge…
Can you sit in a meeting or in a group of any kind without speaking? Try it. How does it feel? What did you notice? Spend a few minutes every day just being quiet and observant. Share you experience with us in the Comments section below:
You are most powerful when you are most silent. People never expect silence. They expect words, motion, defense, offense, back and forth. They expect to leap into the fray. They are ready, fists up, words hanging leaping from their mouths. Silence? No.” Alison McGhee, All Rivers Flow to the Sea
Riddle Me This…
Q: What vegetables do librarians like?
A: Quiet peas
* To noodle: A verb meaning to mull over, think about, contemplate, ponder, puzzle over or brainstorm … and then to act!