#114: Be Quiet Sometimes

Our world has become increasingly noisy in too many ways. There appears to be the ever-present need to drown out the quiet, to avoid silence, to not ever sit still doing nothing. We are surrounded by music, traffic, conversation, and a constant flow of messages. No wonder we cannot concentrate on anything any longer.

Every animal is able to just sit or stand in nature and to take it all in. Surely, they also listen for predators or prey, and I do not want to romanticize nature unnecessarily. And yet, I have seen birds sitting on the birdfeeder, having eaten, just sitting there, looking at the world. I have been able to have quiet moments with deer, just standing there, seeing each other, sharing a moment. I have seen squirrels just resting in the trees. And certainly, cats are the masters of the moment. A cat knows how to maximize their serenity, where to sit to smell, hear, see, and feel all the things surrounding them in a specific space, quietly.

This ability to just be is what some people seek when meditating, exercising, or praying. But as a society, we seem to have been able to make even these activities increasingly noisy in order to overlay our inner sense of unrest, of unease, of war within ourselves. Whatever we see on so-called social media is just a reflection of our inability to just be at peace with ourselves. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to share our thoughts with others, but should we not do so after serious and – how dare I say this – loving reflection?

The ability – or inability – to just be quiet, to just take in, to listen, to just be present, to just be, may well have a connection to our ability to approach the world and others with a sense of love, of acceptance. We like to speak of tolerance, but tolerance just means to tolerate someone else, to acknowledge that we have to make peace with their presence in our world. Acceptance is something more. To truly accept somebody else means to approach them with a sense of love, of seeing them as a coequal and necessary partner in the world, to recognize the other as the same as yourself. We need to allow ourselves to be truly spiritually intimate with not just each other but the world as such, in order to truly be at peace.

Martin Buber (1923) speaks of the need to approach the world on the premise of the “I and Thou,” Erich Fromm (1956 ) speaks of the “Art of Loving,” and Theodor Adorno (1966) calls for a different style of “Education after Auschwitz.” All these texts were written under the impact of either World War I or II. Their idea are thus not trivial, and they all call out for a subject- rather than object-centered approach to our fellow (human) beings. Should we think that this message would be somehow less urgent and outdated right now, we would be very mistaken.

We are all together in this world, and even though we may disagree, even though we may have to fight over issues, we should always accept each other as fellow beings in the universe. In order to be able to feel this and truly not just to be at peace but to be able to create and maintain it, we may need to shut out all worldly noise once in a while and see – and feel – that we are all just living in the same world, in the same moment, and that we are, indeed, one.