On being quiet

29 August 2015

A little over one year ago, I began writing and sending out these email newsletters, and my primary goal at the time was to make a space for absorbing information, considering it and deliberately generating opinions about it—a practice I felt was lacking in my habits of immediate, tweet-sized consumption and production. Pursuing that goal has made me realize that it’s just part of a larger effort to learn how to be quiet. Which took me, as it might you, very much by surprise.

I don’t believe that I am particularly known for being quiet these days. I made my reputation as a community organizer, speaker and occasional opinionated firebrand. I’ve been depositing my thoughts and ideas on the internet, via websites, blogs and social media, for fifteen years now. Here I am, writing several paragraphs on how I’m learning to be quiet. But that has all been a dedicated process of redeeming the way I lived for the entirety of my early life, which was quiet to the point of invisibility.

There is nothing wrong with being quiet. All that matters is the impetus behind it. When I was quiet in my youth, it was because of fear. I was horribly shy, under-confident and scared of speaking out. As I grew older, and became aware of the fear, I embarked on a mission to correct it, by always speaking out. This was a positive move in many ways, but it established the misguided correlation in my mind that being quiet equaled being afraid. And so I found myself in the paradoxical position of being afraid to be quiet because I was afraid of giving in to fear.

As it turns out, there are often good reasons for being quiet that have nothing to do with fear: allowing depth of thought about and consideration of important topics, providing proper care for anxiety and unruly emotions, enabling deliberate rest and ensuring the right actions to take in the future. Sometimes, it’s also just nice to be quiet. To know peace. To know yourself. Now, being quiet is the best way I can know exactly what it is that I have to say.

I appreciate the space that my newsletters have given me to think about the world and consider my words, and I’m intent on creating more of it. I rely less and less on social media, and more and more on direct, genuine conversations with others also seeking connection, reflection and revelation. I may appear, from the outside, to be becoming quieter and quieter, and I am. What may not be readily apparent yet is that becoming quieter is how I’m learning to make my words matter. Though we spill them around rather carelessly these days, words do matter. In the future, I’ll be using them purposefully, with context and weight. And I’ll be listening, quietly, for the words said back to me that carry the same meaning.

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