As an extrovert, quiet isn’t a commodity that holds a lot of value in my life. At least, not quiet for the sake of quiet. Quiet as a response to a migraine prompted by my kids’ bickering and complaining? Well, it’s hard to put a price tag on something of such value. I kid.
Like anyone, I enjoy spurts of it here and there – but long noise-free periods of time has not historically been high on my list of daily needs. The fine art of being constantly distracted is a practice that’s taken years to hone as a means of suppressing the ever-present existential angst from welling up and spilling over into a full-blown midlife crisis. So far, I’m proud to say, the strategy has worked and crisis has been averted, though the desire to ditch my job and ride a motorcycle to Patagonia continues to sit just below the surface, I won’t lie.
That said, there’s a lot of noise these days. It comes from all sides, relentlessly vying for a piece of ear to sink into. Political, consumer, entertainment, social noise – it can all be a bit much, even for the most adamant distraction-seeking extrovert.
Perhaps out of necessity, quiet has forced its way into my life on a regular basis and I know I’m the better for it, despite the incessant longing for distraction. Here are two reflections demonstrating the salve that quiet has offered me over the past few months.
I work in social media and, specifically, in social media within public health. Needless to say, there has been no shortage of noise over the past year. Whether it’s our Provincial government handing down new restrictions that we have to then process and inform our community of or it’s our community, letting us know in no uncertain terms, what their thoughts are on the latest restrictions handed down by the Provincial government, we hear it from all sides. And we hear it non-stop. Prior to COVID, we fought for every drop of that sweet engagement nectar; today, we can post almost anything and will receive a firehose of nectar and, typically, it’s not near as sweet.
There are a lot of concerns I have with social media, to be sure, but one of the main ones is that it exists as a perfect storm for enabling jerkiness. The recipe for this is simple enough: a public platform; an algorithm that ensures like-minded people are seeing like-minded content; and the implicit confidence of minimal repercussions for whatever critiques you dish out. In other words, you can say whatever you like and you’re safe from having to deal with the awkward face-to-face conflict that would result had you said that same thing to the person IRL.
Arguably, all social noise is problematic, but all of this enabling of jerkiness has produced a special type of social noise that voraciously eats away at the soul. We’ll receive anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand comments a day and wading through them day-in-and-day-out can wreak havoc on the most thick-skinned among us. And, as it turns out, my hide is not as thick as I may have thought it to be. And despite knowing on an intellectual level that *most* of the comments are not directed at me personally, it can be exceptionally difficult to process that truth at the heart level.
The antidote is simple enough: step away. Find the social quiet and shut the door to the predictable and relentless digital vitriol. I’ve been fortunate to share the load of handling all of this social media noise with colleagues who have to bear this weight along with me. All of us need seasons – a day here, a week there – in which we simply remove ourselves from the noise altogether. Doing so provides a few benefits, not least of which is perspective. Jerkiness is not excused but it can be understood when we consider the current circumstances our society is in. Intentional quiet has helped us see that much of the disrespect, anger, frustration and so forth stems from fear. Businesses are going under; people are getting sick; kids are suffering – the list is endless but is all rooted in a fear and uncertainty about what will happen next, what will the impact be of this regulation or that measure, etc.
The perspective offered through the quiet doesn’t eliminate my own frustration or the challenges of dealing with all the negative social noise but it gives me the capacity, for a season, to better handle it. As hard as it can be at times, regularly turning down the volume on the social noise is what will get me through this season.
Rhonda and I have been watching “This is Us” the past few years and so many post-episode conversations end with, “Our kids would really benefit from watching this” because there are so many profound lessons from the show that could open up some great conversations and help develop, among other things, empathy.
We recognize there was a risk here as well because there happens to be a decent amount of content in the show that is, frankly, not particularly beneficial to where the kids are at developmentally. Be that as it may, we decided to proceed cautiously in watching this show together, taking full advantage of the Netflix fast forward button and always debriefing after each emotionally charged episode.
So far, this has gone swimmingly. Our conversations have been rich and meaningful and I’ve noticed a positive change in all of our kids’ dispositions and attitudes toward each other and toward us. That said, because each kid is so different in their own maturity, things land differently and it’s demonstrated to me the need to bite my tongue and let things get processed accordingly. Our 6 year old, for instance, has a dramatically different response to the show than the older two kids (9 and 11). She expectedly understands things through a very simple black and white lens, confused about much of it, yet still able to glean a truth here or there. However, one of the biggest lessons she’s starting to learn has not come from the show itself but rather the aftermath of watching an episode.
The other night we watched the house-burning-down episode in which–*spoiler alert*–Jack, the amazing father, dies. It was a gut-wrenching episode, beautifully told through 42 minutes of drama. Having now watched a season and a half of this show, our kids have developed a relationship, of sorts, with each of the characters, and so as we watched the drama unfold, we could see how it was affecting our boys, especially.
After the show was over, there was a necessary space needed for everyone to just sit there in their sadness for a few moments, processing.
Everyone, that is, except our 6-year-old.
Our daughter processed it as most 6-year-olds would: she started chatting about her favourite part of the episode and moving on to whatever was next. The whole thing was mostly over her head, which is completely fine and understandable but the whole situation emphasized the need for the importance of learning to read the room and, in this case, giving space in the form of being quiet.
We weren’t upset or anything, obviously, because that would be psychotic, but I did gently have to instruct her to just “Shhh…” in that moment. I followed it up afterward with a bit of a talk on the need to give silence in the somber moments of life. I explained how when people are sad and are trying to process things, sometimes the best response is to just sit quietly and wait for a bit and that being sad is an important part of expressing emotions and interrupting that space with silliness and chatter can rob others from being able to fully process whatever it is they need to process.
It’s funny how this lesson for our youngest is something I’m still having to learn at my age as well. Likely, we probably all are, in fact. Being silent in the aftermath of situations like this can be really awkward. Every fibre of our being yearns to say something, anything, to help minimize the tension and usher in some levity. This usually ends up even more awkward, of course, as inevitably we’ll say the wrong thing and then are left with the internal dialogue of why we just said that when we should have kept our mouth shut all along.
My daughter’s innocent interruptions in the middle of that somber moment reinforced for me the gift that quiet offers and the reminder to not give in to the impulses that try and alleviate the sometimes awkward moments life brings. Being quiet is the simple-but-difficult solution needed in knowing how to handle these moments, letting the awkward sit and just be, allowing the quiet to do its work on those in need of processing.
Whether it’s social noise, somber moments or any other of the countless ways that quiet offers us relief and reprieve, I’m appreciating it more and more these days, which is saying a lot for me, a die-hard extrovert perpetually in search of the next distraction. Or else it means I’m just getting old. Either way, Ill take it.