Have I Improved the Silence?

“The incredibly great things about Quaker meetings is that everyone just sits there. Silently. And they only talk if the spirit moves them to talk. They only open their mouths if it improves the silence.” – Mike Monteiro, “Quaker Mode”

[Warning: If you click the link to the above post it does contain some strong language.]

I’m a big fan of the Pastry Box Project and I’m a big fan of Mike Monteiro. I am also a huge fan of silence despite the fact that sometimes I don’t necessarily keep quiet when I should.

In Mike’s posting “Quaker Mode” he told us to ask ourselves “is what I’m about to say better than silence?” and I think a question that most of don’t ask ourselves, if only because we’re afraid of the answer or we don’t take the time to stop and think. He was alluding to social media and the rampant noisy destructive path it’s carving through life today, but I’m thinking about it in terms of our day-to-day work lives.

Many, if not most, of us go to meeting after meeting and get on conference calls and do scrum meetings and brainstorm and congregate around water coolers. We talk and talk and talk, sometimes we listen, and sometimes I know we just open our mouths because we don’t want to be the quiet one. We feel the need to say something so that someone else notices that we’re contributing and we’re a “team player” and we’re “engaged.”

Maybe we should stop?

Maybe we should make the words we say valuable. Instead of being known as someone who always has “something to say” perhaps we should work on being someone who’s words carry weight and someone who people should “listen” to because when we speak it means something.

Maybe we should improve on silence by being silent.

Emanuel Derman, in his book Models.Behaving.Badly spoke about absence being a presence, and I think silence is very much the same. We derive meaning in conversation by the pauses that people make, that’s why when we hear something read and it has no pauses or breaks or breaths, it’s incomprehensible.

It’s noise.

So let’s stop making noise and start making silence (by being silent) and letting the result create the meaning we need to make our work successful.

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