When I was a kid - the eldest of six - the words “Be quiet!” were often followed by, “I can’t hear myself think!”
Things were too loud. There were too many distractions. The person (not unsurprisingly, usually a parent) needed some peace and quiet in order to gather themselves, to clarify their thoughts.
What do you see people doing now, on and off our town’s and city’s streets?
I’ll tell you.
You see them walking while listening to their iPods. You see them driving with their radios cranked up to deafening levels. You see them wearing a headset and mashing buttons on a controller while riveted to a computer or tv screen. You see them shopping - loudly - with a cell phone stapled to their ear. You see them laughing at Seinfeld reruns while waiting for the prime time shows and then you see them fall asleep to Letterman before waking up with Regis.
I think a lot of people today are uncomfortable with, indeed are afraid of, silence. They don’t like stopping the input of sensory data. To be alone with themselves.
To hear themselves think.
“But Frank,” I hear you holler (because your earbuds are in and you’re talking louder than necessary) “I use my iPod as a focusing tool - to drown out other distractions!”
So we, clever beings that we are, bombard ourselves with chosen noise to drown out the other noise around us.
But it’s still noise. And it’s still preventing us from hearing ourselves think.
We in the developed nations are super-stimulated. We’re the ADD generation, constantly immersing ourselves in neuron-pinging media. We’re not sleeping well and we’re overweight. Our mental health is suffering, so we fix it with sleeping pills and Prozac, or self-medicate with booze and/or other, less legal substances.
I believe a goodly portion of what ails us can be traced to not hearing ourselves think. Like an overstimulated 2-year-old, we need quiet time. Regularly.
In my book I talked about how we’re becoming alienated from nature, how concrete and steel are shielding us from fields, trees, water and animals.
You don’t have to look far for evidence that we are also alienating ourselves from each other: Young people shoot other young people for ridiculous reasons. Fender-benders lead to mayhem. Conscienceless predators bilk the elderly out of life savings. Politicians serve their donors, not their voters.
So, let’s recap: We’re alienated from nature. We’re alienated from each other. And most of us only have a nodding acquaintance with ourselves.
All those ills are related. Tending the latter can be the first step in mending them all. Do yourself a favour. Whether it’s 15 minutes in a quiet part of the house, a peaceful lunch in a park or a hike in the woods, make time for some silence - regularly.
Give yourself the same respect you allot to those folks on the other end of your phone, or radio or tv screen: listen to yourself. You may be surprised at what you learn.