Quiet is the new loud
Susan Cain’s recent book, Quiet, has ironically got everyone talking. It presents some fascinating research and a compelling argument for how we as a society have undervalued the quietness in our world.
Not only do we under-appreciate quiet, but we also neglect rest. Forty years ago, people were debating what we would do with all the spare time that developments in technology would free up. The reality is, we seem to have less free time than ever before.
Today, less than 40% of workers use their full allocation of holiday. The average lunch break lasts 35 minutes, and 1 in 5 people don’t even take a lunch break. On average, office workers enjoy no more than 3 minutes at their desk without interruption.
The old adage, “oh for some peace and quiet!” has never had such relevance. What currency does ‘peace and quiet’ have in an increasingly clamourous world? Perhaps the indie folk duo Kings of Convenience were onto something when they told us that Quiet is the New Loud.
A couple of years ago, Pico Iyer discussed the cost of loud in his article The Joy of Quiet, and suggested that our creativity could be at stake. Neuroscientists have found that both empathy and deep thought depend on neural process that are inherently slow. Iyer himself talks about regularly going on retreat, losing himself in the stillness offered by a Benedictian monastery, in order to have something useful to bring his family and friends.
Solitude and stillness, according to the Bishop of London Richard Chartres, are the great educators. Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century that “distraction is the only thing that consoles us in our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” He also famously remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone. Marshall McLuhan, the 1970s guru of mass media communications theory, warned that “when things come at you very fast, you lose touch with yourself.”
In a world throwing so much at us so fast, which we mostly choose to receive, how and where can we reconnect with ourselves? Where can we develop our own emotional and moral clarities?
Paul Miller’s explorations of a year without internet has recently been cropping up on various social networks. He says how he had hoped to achieve and accomplish things he hadn’t had the chance to, because he was ‘plugged in’ the whole time. However, he didn’t get the results he expected – primarily because he spent his time plugged into other things, such as his Xbox, instead.
What would he have found if he had actively practiced stillness and solitude?
Meditation, prayer, stillness and solitude are predominantly spiritual disciplines, but the concept of the sabbath – of deep rest – is one of profound importance for us in our world today. Perhaps we could all learn from those people of faith who model stillness, peace and the embrace of quiet.
After that withdrawal, that restoration of our minds and spirit, we can hope to emerge as more creative, unique and adventurous thinkers and doers. We’re not talking about retreating from the world altogether, but simply making time and creating space to rest so that our voices are clearer and stronger when we re-join the wonderful cacophonic conversation.