On Quietness

‘Quiet people have the loudest minds’ Stephen Hawking

In an increasingly busy world, peace and quiet is a rare and precious commodity. Any quiet person knows that. I’m not sure that it is fully understood or accepted by others who are more gregarious. It’s certainly not even on the horizon of loud tribal sorts who habitually talk loudly (often about themselves) and exhibit little awareness of the fact that if someone is sitting quietly it doesn’t mean they have nothing going on in their heads.

How many times have you had to move because someone has thoughtlessly polluted your thinking space?

Quietness can be misinterpreted in other ways. When I was at college there was a girl I knew who was friendly, quiet and well spoken, but who had little to say to me. I thought her aloof and that perhaps I was too worldly for her taste.

A couple of decades later, we bumped into each other. I mentioned my reflections only to find out that she felt exactly the same way. We were both shy. We both thought the other was aloof. In fact, we were both slightly terrified about talking to each other. Quietness has both benefits and pitfalls.

It’s OK to be quiet.

Being a quiet soul is not always easy in practice. It’s just not possible to avoid the sort of social and work oriented events that can prove so uncomfortable.

One can hardly wander round with a placard that says ‘I’m a quiet, sensitive soul. Can we just hang out for a bit while I get my thoughts in line? Maybe let’s sit and stare into space together for a while…’

This clearly doesn’t make for a good networking experience.

What if… there’s another way? What if there is a way to overcome the discomfort? Another way to get the ball rolling without a carefully rehearsed and hopelessly shallow elevator pitch?

What if it is as simple as employing your best listening skills and learning the art of well-crafted questions? It’s OK to be quiet, introverted, shy, retiring, unconfident, marching to a different drum. All of these things can be turned into advantages. In some senses, it’s all about learning to become ninja-like in the application of your strengths, rather than fretting about your weaknesses.

It’s OK to take your time.

Take as much as you need (within sensible limits). Don’t be pushed into reacting quickly to important challenges or questions — the world is already full of opinion pieces, snap judgment and sound bites.

Our world of pressure, deadlines, and competitive edge sadly lacks mindfulness, proper reflection and thoughtful, empathic dialogue. We get infected by ideas and carried along without time to reflect and make clear decisions about who we really are and what we really want in our lives. You have the right to take your time.

From The Art of Shouting Quietly