Silence is a source of great strength. - Lao Tzu
Silence is a true friend who never betrays. – Confucius
Some years ago at a leadership development seminar I attended, the attendees were paired up to perform an intriguing exercise.
In the exercise, one of the pair describes a real problem that they have. The other half of the duo listens. They are not allowed to comment on what they hear. They are not allowed to ask questions nor are they allowed to attempt to solve the problem being described. They are also not permitted to gesture or react in any way to what they hear.
They are told to listen and to potentially learn what Marcus Tullius Cicero meant when he wrote:
Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.
The participants in the exercise learn quickly that it is practically impossible for us to keep quiet when someone else is talking.
Yes, it is true that most of us were raised to help others when we can. However, I found it to be an interesting demonstration of how our ego needs to solve everything that it perceives around us even if it doesn’t really know the answer or hasn’t even been asked to solve the problem. When someone has a problem, we automatically have a solution and are very quick to vocalize it. After all, as many of us know, it is much easier (and fun) to solve someone else’s problems rather than our own.
With the introduction of social media, this need for all of us to solve everyone’s problems or to express an opinion about them has become much more apparent and much more irresistible … and sometimes much less respectful.
As someone in the public eye, as a strategy guy, as someone who vigorously challenges those who usurp the rights of others through ignorance, greed or incompetence (especially under the guise of leadership or expertise) and as someone who embraces the ideals as expressed in Proverbs 31:8 where it is noted
"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; defend the rights of all those who have nothing.”
I also find the need to respond to events to be irresistible. After all, it is what passionate “fixers” do automatically. :-)
However, those of us who respond to many things sometimes find that we are dragged into responding to anything whether or not it is in alignment with the reason we walk this Earth.
As a result, it seems that we are constantly proving William S. Burroughs right when he notes:
Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.
The ability to unplug matters.
The ability to be silent matters.
The ability to silently observe, absorb, discard, contemplate, reflect and cleanse matters.
As a tested and confirmed near-hyperthymesiac (a person with a superior autobiographical memory), I find that the cleansing that comes from quiet observation and reflection to be a valuable exercise to flush the brain of unnecessary “stuff”.
It is a practice that I practice on a regular basis and one that I strongly recommend for anyone whose vocation, passion or hobby calls for them to be constantly “talking” in any form.
Sometimes when we are doing all the talking, we forget how to listen.
And so begins my semi-regular retreat from social media and making public comments using it. I take as long as I need. Sometimes it’s a weekend. A few years ago, I disappeared from the public eye (not counting clients, family and close friends) for 8 weeks and had to resurface to explain to people that I hadn’t died when rumors started to circulate. :-)
All that being said ……
The politicians as well the incompetent, the greedy and the selfish who espouse their brilliance under the guise of “leadership” get a small reprieve.
But don’t worry.
I’m still watching. :-)
And I will be back soon.
In the meantime, when I say “Keep the noise down, I’m thinking”, I’m not talking to you.
I’m talking to myself. :-)
In service and servanthood,