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Take Time From the Din of Daily Life and Listen to Nothing

You might find the ‘sound of silence’ is exactly what you need

Photo by jeffbergen from Getty Images Signature

I’m sure you’re aware of Simon and Garfunkel’s song, “The Sound of Silence,” from 1964. (I particularly like the version produced by Disturbed in 2015.) While the overall theme of the song has been extensively discussed, and Paul Simon has not assigned any deep meaning to the lyrics, Art Garfunkel summed it up very well when he said the song meant:

“…the inability of people to communicate with each other, not particularly intentionally but especially emotionally, so what you see around you are people unable to love each other.”

Simon & Garfunkel: The Sound of Silence

I recently retired from my full-time job. For nearly 50 years I had “gotten up and gone to work” — attended a massive number of meetings, answered thousands of phone calls, met with hundreds of clients and certainly hired/fired/worked with my share of coworkers. I gave speeches and listened to an incredible number of presentations/pitches for business ideas.

I hosted foreign delegations and traveled to 46 countries to present seminars, teach classes and make keynote addresses. I attended hundreds of conventions, workshops and educational sessions. I taught classes in entrepreneurship and management for over 15 years.

If your norm is 24–7

So what? My point is that I’ve been busy. I’ve filled my days with a combination of communication and noise. As technology encroached into my hours away from work, I also filled many night hours with that same noise. Maybe you can relate.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that people have a need to be connected these days — whether it’s by television (24-hour news channels) or via phone (constantly checking for email, information, etc.) or through interactions with others. It seems our lives are never truly quiet anymore.

I’ve even been to events that were interrupted by the ring of a phone or the chime of an email arrival (weddings, funerals, church services, you name it). People couldn’t bring themselves to “disconnect” for even a short time (or, so they claimed, they “forgot to turn the ringer off”).

I’ve conducted interviews in which candidates reached into their pocket/purse/whatever to retrieve their cell phone because it “went off and it might have been something important,” they said, barely apologizing. One person answered a phone call in the middle of a job interview because it “might have been from that very important person I’ve been trying to get in touch with.” He didn’t get the job.

Quiet is the underrated luxury

Now I regularly turn my phone off. Just off, completely. “Oh, well, you’re retired,” I hear you say. “You don’t have to stay connected anymore. You can truly relax.”

Well, let me tell you. It’s taken a few months of practice to be able to do that. When I first walked away from work, my partner pointed out I was constantly pulling my phone out of my pocket to check for non-existent emails and/or messages.

I started to notice, too, that when I was around people, someone had to be constantly speaking, making small talk, attempting to communicate with the rest of the group. People couldn’t be silent or reflective — they had to have some noise.

When I visited people’s homes, I noticed the television — at least in a back room — was on. When I inquired as to what they were watching, many replied, “Oh, I just keep it on for the background noise. I’m not really listening to it.”

It says something about ourselves — and our lives — when we need some kind of noise going on rather than living in reflective quiet. People have told me they “couldn’t stand the quiet” and thus turned on the television/radio just to break the silence and interject noise.

I’ve also met people who are from busy cities where car horns, train engines, busses, and loud conversations become the norm for the expected level of noise. When those individuals are out in the country, away from home, they are actually startled by the lack of these loud interruptions.

This sums up, to me, the theme music for our society — “the background noise of life.” We are used to notifications (remember “You’ve got mail”?), to jangles and jingles and dings, to personal ringtones and loud notices of arriving messages. We always have some type of music or commentary playing in the background. We become sensitive to the sound of silence, and we can seldom stand to just sit still with no cacophony present.

Don’t wait until you’re retired

Now that I’m retired, I have time to reflect, and the background noise of nature has fascinated me in the past few months. I’ve been up early in the morning, having coffee on my back porch, and I hear the songs of many different birds. (I never heard them before.) I hear the whistle and rumble of a train on a track many miles away from my house. I hear the wind blow.

Most of this I never noticed because I was too busy tuning my ear for the chime of an arriving email or the jangle of a phone call. In addition, I often hear the “sounds of silence” — the lack of background noise, the quiet stillness that allows one to think and reflect.

I’ve done a lot of thinking and reflecting over the past few months, and, I have to say, it’s been wonderful. Leaving out the noise of society and incorporating the sounds of nature has been a real treat. I encourage you to take time out from the hubbub and din of everyday sounds to listen to nothing — to relax, to ponder, to take in the sound of silence.

You’ll be glad you did.

Mark S Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues. UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the lab to the market, making the world a better place.

Originally published at http://incubatorblogger.wordpress.com on September 14, 2021.

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