Wednesday, October 07, 2015

We need more of THIS

There a time at night, right around three o'clock in the morning, before the morning risers and after the night owls have gone to bed, when everything goes still. And quiet. From my front porch, where I work, I detect only the barest of movements. A neighbour's cat. The rustling of leaves. A chipmunk scurrying along a telephone wire. The movements are sudden, made larger by the silence around them. This is my favourite time of night to take a short break and just walk onto the sidewalk and stare up at the heavens.

Bethany and I live in the suburbs, so it is not the view that one would get further north into the country. Nor does it in anyway equal the view she grew up with Ethiopia, where the legendary African skies are as beautiful as they are mythical.

No, peering up through the telephone wires and old maples that form the canopy over our street can't equal that. But I like to look just the same. I like to explore the possibility of vastness, and eternity, through the lenses of the stars. There is so much we do not know, and in those moments, more than ever, I am aware of my humanity. Aware of how small I am. Aware of how little knowledge I possess, Google be damned.

It seems, with increasing proclivity, that Western culture is getting louder and louder. Libraries, with few exceptions (Thank you, Richmond Hill Central), offer video games for kids, and allow them to play those games at full volume. Grocery stores have their own radio stations (this is true) and shopping malls are like night clubs. Think about it. Think about one place you can go where there is no background music. No noise of any kind.

As a writer, silence is and must be my friend. Even though I listen to soundtrack music (no words) when I write, I only do it to block out the constant noise in a society that more intent on distraction than contemplation. More intent on dazzling you than making you think. More intent on the parade than the process.

The results are increasingly evident. Our inability to put our damn phone damn while we're in the checkout line or driving or at work means everyone is always talking, but who's listening. More importantly, are we listening to ourselves? 

If we're incapable of self-reflection, we create an increasingly surficial society. And for that, we need to experience silence. As Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., explains,

"The function of self-reflection is to make meaning. The creation of meaning is at the heart of what it means to be human."

Look, I know I may sound like I'm getting old and grumpy, but there is no question that literacy is affected by noise. People who read a lot don't mind silence because reading requires reflection, which requires fewer, not greater, distractions. We need our society to move forward, not back. We do not want to fight the same battle that we fought when it comes to equality and justice and freedom simply because our kids want noise all the time. We don't want to lose the gains we've made in medicine because people would rather read a two page Wikipedia page than go to school. And mostly, we don't want to lose the ability to dream because we're always running from one thing to the next, with no awareness of where we're going.

I'm not saying that music isn't important, or that connecting with others shouldn't happen. What I'm saying is that maybe we need to take a bit more time thinking quietly without the flash and buzz and fireworks of the latest Netflix show going on in the background.

Dreamers need to be able to discern where they are before they'll ever go anywhere. So some time this week, turn the radio off on your way to work. Think about what you want in life. Think about what you want to do next. Think about what you need to do next to get there.

Above all, enjoy the quiet. Learn to relish it, embrace it. Even as we sit in those metal coffins, week after week, we can learn to go somewhere else, envision what will happen, and motivate ourselves to take the next step.

And we can do it in silence.