Moving In Silence (Season 2020 Episode 8)

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NOTE: I began preparing for this episode some days before the violent death of George Perry Floyd Jr. in Minneapolis at the hands of a police officer. As violence broke out across the country it seemed best to stay silent and observe. And listen. The irony of the title of today’s episode wasn’t lost on me. It was purely coincidental. I was already thinking very seriously about my own urge to be quieter in some specific areas of life. If you’ve listened to the COVID19 episodes you could likely figure out that my tolerance of highly opinionated, judgmental people is eroding. I’ve never much cared for it, but if the coronavirus didn’t bring such people out of the woodwork, this current ordeal surely has. I simply want you to know that today’s show is not a response to specific incidents or any news, but today’s show is mostly provoked by human behavior. Disagreement. Anger. Assumption. Judgment. Strife. Contention. No big shock really. Behaving poorly is almost always the easy choice. Doing the right thing – behaving with kindness – requires more from us. At the beginning of the pandemic, I began to post some audio sermons in a YouTube playlist entitled, In Thy Paths. The first sermon (21 minutes long) was entitled, A Certain Samaritan Answers The Question, “Who is my neighbor?” I’ve embedded it here in case you want to give it a listen. Even if you’re irreligious I hope the message will resonate with you. So with that, let’s talk about moving in silence. Thank you for hitting that play button. I know your time is valuable and I can’t properly thank you enough for giving me your time and attention. Without you, I’m just a guy talking to himself into a microphone!

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It started some time ago with Baker Mayfield, starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, but most notable in my book as being the OU Sooner Heisman Trophy winner. Last year I was highly entertained by him, as usual. But I’m a fan, so that’s my bias. During the offseason – and even during the season – Baker was widely criticized for being too loud and talkative. Prior to the beginning of this weird 2020 season, Baker decided it was time to start “moving in silence” – a quote from his press conference that captured my attention.

John Prine’s song had already been in my ears and on my mind, Quiet Man. And for weeks I’d been giving serious consideration to my urge to become quieter, not in a podcasting sense necessarily, but in other real-life situations. Truth was, I had made up my mind weeks ago that I was going to be much quieter in some areas of my life.

And there’s more music about silence or quiet, too. One of my favorite bands, Mandolin Orange, released an album in 2010 entitled, Quiet Little Room.

Then about a couple of weeks ago Ken Yates released a new album, Quiet Talkers. It’s like the universe was pushing, not just nudging, this idea of quietness. Something that isn’t all that hard for me. In spite of the fact that I’m a podcaster who struggles with consistency.

Thoreau wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I’d also been thumbing through an old book (circa 1988) – a paperback that I’ve had for years entitled, “Quiet Desperation: The Truth About Successful Men.”

There are a number of books dealing with introverts which have a focus on the power of quiet.

The paradox is that I’m compelled to communicate. Until I’m not.

Then I’m even more compelled to be silent. And it can last quite a while.

I don’t read the genre, but I jotted down a quote I ran into that I thought was quite clever. Science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick crafted a great line in a novel, Valis:

“When you are crazy you learn to keep quiet.”

Perhaps I’m becoming aware of my own craziness. Maybe that’s fueling my desire to pick my spots and grow increasingly quieter. I’m not sure. How can I be? I’m crazy. 😉

I know that I’m quite fond of 3am. And have been much of my life. It’s quiet. And still. The ideal time to walk about for quietness. Not likely the safest hour, but I’ve taken plenty of chances. I figure I’ll take plenty more.

3am is magical.

But 4am ain’t bad either. John Rives delivered a brilliant 8-minute TED Talk back in 2007 that is still my most-watched TED Talk. I love it like I love 4am. Or 3am.

The silence. The quiet. The stillness. There’s something about it.

The contradiction of my own life is how much I’m a sound and communication guy. As a kid I’d come home from school and the first thing I’d do – the VERY first thing I’d do – is turn on the TV, then leave the room. I just needed the sound. It felt like opening the window to the world. Without it, the window was closed. Eventually, I’d wind my way back in the same room with the TV to watch F Troop, The Andy Griffith Show, Gilligan’s Island or McCale’s Navy. But I needed the sound.

Music. Well, if you’ve listened to at least one episode of this podcast before you understand my passion for music. And how much of it I listen to. You know that phone notification you get each week that tells you if your usage for the week is up or down? And by how much – both as a percentage and as time? Well, it’s a good thing I don’t have some kind of chip in my head tracking the hours I spend listening to music ’cause it’s a ridiculous number.

Communication. Speech was always one of my favorite subjects. It’s one of the reasons I went into journalism school at LSU. I’m very communicative. 😉

Then there’s that whole introvert/extrovert thing. We won’t even go down that bunny trail.

I figure we’re all a walking contradiction. I admit I am.

This is why in the last 6 weeks or more I’ve grown increasingly determined to shut up in some instances. I won’t bore you with the details of exactly where, but I will tell you that I was prompted to do a podcast episode about profitable disagreement over at the work podcast, The Power Of Others. It was sparked by numerous conversations with people who were frustrated with people in their lives unwilling to have or continue a discussion. In short, people with whom discussion is difficult or impossible.

I make a handful of points in that podcast ending with one final point about how we can rob ourselves of profitable disagreement (where many of the best ideas and truths are found). Avoid hitting the shut-down point. That’s the point we all reach when we just no longer want to talk because we realize the push back isn’t worth the price we pay to express ourselves. It’s counter production – even destructive – when you’re trying to rally people to accomplish something worthwhile. But sometimes people don’t want to listen to anybody else. Those smartest people in the room have little use for your ideas, thoughts, feelings, or insights. It won’t be long before you reach your shut-down point. Then, you’ll do whatever you can to distance because it’s the safe play. Frankly, I think it’s the wise play. And I’m a fan of increasing that distance continually and consistently.

The shut-down point is important in this conversation because there’s an area of my life where I’ve reached that point. There may even be more than one. What about you?

I’m betting you could quickly and easily remember when you hit a shut-down point. What prompted you going quiet? Was it because somebody didn’t listen to you? Or was it because somebody was quick with harsh judgment? Or was it because you were ridiculed? Odds are it was because somebody – or a group of somebodies – wasn’t respectful enough or kind enough to try to understand. It may not have had anything to do with you. But still you took it to heart.

For me, the quietness is driven by some strong desire. It’s not always the same. Usually, it’s the desire to stop the insanity. To stop throwing gasoline on a fire that I’d rather not have seen ignited to begin with. Sometimes it’s a quest for peace. Especially with people who may be easily inflamed. Mostly it’s driven by my complete lack of desire to be heard. The thing that provokes it can be varied, but that’s the sum total of it for me. I just reach my shut-down point and that’s all she wrote.

Baker Mayfield seems to have hit his shut-down point. At least when it comes to being the starting quarterback for an NFL team. Smart.

“Moving in silence” was an important phrase Baker used. It’s not merely being quiet while you do nothing. It’s continuing to move – presumably forward – while being silent. Baker’s profession allows him to move in silence while people can easily assess whether or not he’s putting in the work. Or how well he’s performing. Context matters. Not every area of our life – an area where we’ve hit our shut-down point – is one where we can demonstrate we’re still moving. People too often mistake silence for lack of movement.

It may look like I’m doing nothing, but I’m actively waiting for my problems to go away.

People who are always silent or quiet don’t get much attention. But folks who suddenly or over time grow quieter tend to raise suspicions. “What’s going on with him?” people ask.

I got very quiet in one particular area of my life a couple of years ago. I wasn’t sure how long it might last, but it felt like the proper thing to do. So I did it. During this pandemic, I was daily hit with doses of clarity. Me and Baker. 😉

I’m more determined than ever to join him in moving in silence in this area of my life. For starters, because it’s best for me. And it’s also best for others. So it’s pretty much a no-brainer decision.

But it’s one area. Just one area.

“Are you sure?” asks a friend. Yes, I’m very sure.

“Will it be hard?” he presses. I admit it was at first, but by now it’s truly quite easy. Likely because now after a couple of years I can tell how profitable it is for me. A man has to do what he has to do. I’m a broken record in telling people that few things are more powerful than a mind made up. My mind is made up. And my mouth is shut.

“My radio’s on, windows rolled up and my minds rolled down.” – John Prine, Long Monday

Moving is critical.

If the silence is going to be productive, it must serve a purpose. Hopefully, it benefits everybody starting with a quiet person. As a Baker Mayfield fan, I’m hopeful that his moving in silence pays off bigtime. I’m more confident in my own moving in silence, but that’s just because I’m in control of that.

Given that I’m recording this in June 2020 during this COVID19 pandemic I likely need to give context to the word “moving.” Some people are staying at home. Millions of people across the country are working from home. Staying put and staying safe isn’t synonymous with not moving though. I’m using “moving” to mean “accomplishing” or “achieving.” Like Baker, it’s about performance – performing.

Performing in silence

Somebody says, “Nobody wants to perform without attention.” The subject is charity and works of benevolence. I question, “Sure they do. You just don’t hear about it.” 😀 It’s the irony of every age, especially our live-out-loud Internet age. For example, there’s this Instagram from the actor Topher Grace, who played Eric on That 70’s Show.

Permit a quote from scripture that specifically addresses the issue.

Matthew 6:1
Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

But where’s the fun in that?

Moving whilst shouting about it is how it’s done, right?

Besides, we all know the truth of how the world works – if you don’t blow your own horn then you won’t get credit for it. And if you don’t get credit for it, then what are you doing it for?

Many of us enjoy simple generalizations. And we can easily lean toward extreme absolutes…with terms like “never” or “always.” Never self promote versus always self promote.

Life is more complex than that though. Circumstances, situations, and context differ making one-size-fits-all approaches impractical.

Eccl. 3:7 “…A time to keep silence, And a time to speak…”

There are many times when speaking and writing are necessary because they’re helpful. Sometimes the purpose is to communicate thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Sometimes the purpose is to investigate curiosity so we can understand. Or so we can better understand. That’s not likely the wisest order of the purposes either. Firstly, we ought to be silent, listen, and ask questions in order to understand. Then, we’ll be better equipped to share our thoughts, feelings, ideas, and beliefs.

There’s another time to keep silence — when there’s no benefit to speaking up. Or when speaking up may even be detrimental.

We all encounter some circumstances when that’s the case. The key is figuring that out. Quickly.

Figuring out when to speak up and when to keep quiet is where the work begins. Figuring it out in real-time is urgent. For our own well-being and for the well-being of those around us. Unfortunately, it’s work that not everybody wants to do. Still others don’t make the work much of a priority. Yet others don’t know how to put in the work.

The easy things aren’t often the best or wisest or most profitable things. The hard things more often are.

Which is why it’s difficult for some to keep quiet. And for others to speak up.

Why it’s easy for some to be critical and judgmental, while it’s easier for others to embrace empathy and compassion.

As humans, we can all learn, improve, and grow. It largely depends on whether or not we see the benefit or value. To ourselves and to others.

“Blowing out someone else’s candle won’t make yours shine brighter. Remember that.”

So why do we do it?

Because it fools us into thinking it will make our candle shine brighter. Even if that fails, it can make us feel better about our candle’s brightness.

Maybe we do it because moving in silence is too deafening. We get trapped in our own fears and insecurities. So rather than moving in silence we lash out, judge and criticize others. Or we busy ourselves comparing ourselves to those we perceive as being more successful. Better.

A universal challenge we can likely all relate to is the fear of other people’s opinions.

What will they think of us?

What will they say about us?

Baker Mayfield is certainly living his life more out in public than most of us. By comparison, I’m a hermit living under a rock…even though I podcast and have some reasonably consistent social media presence. But compared to Baker, I’m alone in a forest just talking to myself.

You’ve heard it repeatedly — one of the biggest obstacles to finding success in anything is our ability to shut out the noise of critics. But it’s deeper than that – this whole quest of moving in silence! It starts with the noise in our head. Got nothing to do with critics, but it has everything to do with our anticipation of critics. Our fears that somebody will say something bad about us. Or think something bad about us. Or worse yet, somebody will openly criticize us.

Fears paralyze us. Or cripple us. Frozen in our tracks, thinking somebody somewhere will think poorly of us…we avoid moving. Fears, self-doubt and insecurities drive many of us to remain stuck in silence – instead of moving in silence!

Then there’s crowd influence – going along with the responses of the vocal crowd. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the majority because it’s not often a quantifiable number. It’s the noise level. Think of it as humming your own song, but all around others are singing very loudly…a different song. You surrender your humming. Many do.

A Point Of Context: As I was crafting the notes for this episode I was thinking of all sorts of things that illustrate this. A person says they really enjoy a certain piece of music, only to be ridiculed because others think that music is lame (for example, is anybody courageous enough to admit being a fan of Nickelback, perhaps the most ridiculed band I can think of). It happens with books, movies, art and just about anything else.

I was also thinking of the people who don’t think one candidate or the other is ideal for the office of President of the United States. Or people who support the current President without approving of every single act or statement he makes. It’s hard to stand your ground on your opinions or beliefs when opposing viewpoints are so loud.

A person might support opposition to the current President, but be in the company of supporters. The crowd influences them to remain silent. 

It’s the punchline to the joke about the wide-mouthed frog who goes throughout the area where he lives inquiring about what the other animals are eating for breakfast. He speaks loudly, with his mouth opened wide as he speaks. He finds out the giraffe eats grass. The elephant eats plants. Then the crocodile answers that he eats wide-mouthed frogs for breakfast garnering a response from the wide-mouthed frog, (pursing his lips tightly together) “Oh, really.”

That’s how we can all behave when the crowd that surrounds us – however big or small – disagrees with us. “Oh, really.”

If that racquet is loud enough, long enough it may even be able to alter our viewpoint. We may surrender our taste, viewpoint, opinion or belief to go along with the others. Other people influence us whether we like to admit it or not. Birds of a feather may flock together, but sometimes we become more like the birds who surround us, too.

There are 2 action words in today’s title: moving & silence. Both require action and work on our part.

Moving.

Stationary is easy. Movement? Less so.

What popped to your mind when you first heard the phrase? Moving in silence.

During my bouts of insomnia, I often watch YouTube videos of people who live the RV lifestyle full-time. I’m not remotely tempted to live the way they do, but there’s something about it that I find quite fascinating. Mostly, I started subscribing to some of these channels a few years ago because I wondered why people opt for such a way of life. But I watch other shows like Hawaii Life, Home Town, House Hunters, and plenty of other shows that tell stories of people literally making moves to new places. Their stories are varied. But there’s something in every single story – people have engaged their imaginations to pursue something they don’t currently have. And in every single story is something else – experience.

I started listening carefully to people talk about, in fairly vivid detail, what life will be like in this new space. When you’re traversing Hawaii with the intention of moving there, it’s easy to let your imagination run amuck. Well, it’s easy to imagine living there even if you’re visiting with no intention of ever moving. That’s the power of the imagination.

You know why all these shows are so popular?

Because most of us don’t do what we see these other people doing. We don’t sell everything we have, buy an RV and hit the road full-time. We don’t move to Laurel, Mississippi (the location of Home Town) and renovate some old house. We don’t uproot from our current location and head to Hawaii permanently.

Vicariously, we’re able to imagine what it’d be like to do what we see others doing. All without leaving our home. Or our current situation. I’ll throw a few numbers to illustrate the point. About 1.2 to 1.6 million people would watch each new episode of Hawaii Life, a show about people finding places to buy so they can move to Hawaii. Each year about 12,500 new people move to Hawaii. That’s a bit over 1,000 people each month, a tiny fraction of people who watch the TV show. Not surprising though. Lots more of us enjoy watching and dreaming. Fewer of us enjoy making such a dramatic change.

Ask any professional trainer or people involved in professional development and they’ll likely confess that in spite of doing their best to give people actionable things to improve themselves…the majority of people in attendance won’t do one thing with what they learn. Most believe that fewer than 2% will leave the training and do one thing. Fewer still will make a meaningful long-term change. Seems like a big waste of time, huh?

You could think so and you’d be right.

But you could also embrace my point-of-view, as evidenced by my favorite story of that little boy throwing single starfish back into the ocean one at a time, even though there are thousands of them stranded on the beach. “It made a difference to that one.”

I don’t get fixated on scaling. I care more about individual impact. Good thing, too ’cause my critics enjoy pointing out how I don’t enjoy any widespread influence. They think they’re dissing me, but instead, they’re just validating my philosophy!

Moving signifies forward progress. Advancement. Improvement. Growth.

Silence indicates one component of that progress. Not loud. Not brash. Not calling attention to. But quietly. Without fanfare. Without spotlight.

NBC News released a poll that Americans are more unhappy than they’ve been in 50 years. It has prompted a firestorm of social media posts urging people to vote. Like that’s gonna help? The pandemic. Societal unrest. Bigotry. Prejudice. Crime. Politicians are the answer? Well, okay.

Moving in silence is contrasted with staying put, but doing it out loud.

Don’t mistake motion with movement. As I use the word, movement means doing something more profitable than moving around. I can stand still and jump and down. Other than getting some aerobic exercise I’m not going to be advancing. I can create lots of motion though. And I can holler at the top of my lungs while doing it. That’ll likely elevate my heart rate and help exercise my lungs. But I’m not sure it’ll do much else.

Do we really think somebody else’s movement will fix what ails us? Will their action make us happy? Happier? How?

What of our own movement? What actions are we going to take to advance ourselves?

Months ago – maybe even a year or so ago – I sat down and drew 3 circles representing the 3 big areas of my life as it relates to activity (not relationships). Relationships trump it all, but even in those relationships, there are serious actions required. Rhonda and I have been married for over 42 years. It didn’t just happen by accident or chance. We worked at it. We took actions that fostered our ability to stay together. Happily. But as I sat and drew these circles I was thinking of activities.

Spiritual was the first circle, followed by Personal, then finally Professional. They form a Venn diagram where they all intersect in one single area that I shaded in and called the “sweet spot.” That sweet spot represented the work I began a few years ago where I started focusing on our ability to help each other. I called it by the same name as my professional podcast, THE POWER OF OTHERS.

I’ve come to more fully understand how critical it is that we surround ourselves with people who can help us and people willing to let us help them.

Activities.

It reminds me of Herb Kelleher’s famous quote about the strategic planning of Southwest Airlines, the airline he helped co-found.

“We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.”

Doing things. That’s movement. Doing wise things. Doing the proper things. Doing the right things. That’s moving.

In silence is doing it without fanfare. Doing it quietly. Doing it intentionally by just blending in, falling into the woodwork, if you please.

Almost 2 years ago I got increasingly quiet in a few key areas of my life. Largely, spiritually. Not in avoiding teaching or preaching, which I have done in earnest during this pandemic, as evidenced by that work I call IN THY PATHS. But I began to embrace my most natural state of introversion – of being quiet much of the time. Letting life and others step to the forefront if they so chose.

Here’s the irony of it all. By simply speaking of it with you, I’m breaking silence. Technically. But our moving in silence surely needs to provide some learning – not just for us, but for others. Unless we communicate, there can be little teaching. So if you find this hypocritical of me, so be it. I can suffer that momentarily. Go ahead.

I started reflecting on my lifelong actions and approach. And decided it was time to more fully embrace that as I had much of my life. To not push against whatever power-mongering went on around me (and there’s always plenty to go around). But rather, to just do my work in anonymity and silence, as much as possible. The spiritual work has always been like that because one of my biggest strengths is safety. Providing people a safe space where they can pour out their problems, challenges, and difficulties knowing that I only want to help them through it.

I think back of people who have gone through some traumatic ordeals unknown to almost everybody. And I’m honored to be so trusted. I don’t betray that trust. Because I know we all need somebody with whom we can be completely safe. Safe enough to be as vulnerable as we need to be to get past something. Or through it.

Moving in that kind of silence is super easy for me.

Moving in silence when people are behaving poorly is much, much harder. I’m not talking about people who sit still while others hurt people, but I am talking about people who may be unable to sit still while others clamor for attention or power or popularly or authority. Sitting still during that is much less natural for me, but about 2 years ago I made up my mind it was – for me – the right way to go about it. I felt it was time for me to let that go. So I did.

Fast forward and enter Baker Mayfield’s comment and you may now better see why it resonated with me. I thought immediately, “Yes, that’s precisely what I’m trying to do.” I renewed my zeal for the work. Both the moving and the silence. In that order.

But something else is worth mentioning before I shut up today.

As I kept thinking of Baker’s comment and as I began leaning more heavily into being true to who I most am – I came to understand some other important truths. Two actually.

One, those things come easily – most naturally – for us tend to be things we grossly undervalue. Because they’re not difficult.

And two, we do that because culture has conditioned us to think everything worthwhile is hard. It must be difficult and if it’s not, then it’s not worthwhile. It’s not valuable unless it requires some hard grinding.

You know I’m no longer a young man. I’d love to fancy myself a fast learner, but the past couple of years have taught me – more than all the other years of my life combined – that these 2 things are true.

It’s possible for me to move in silence while continuing to podcast and share my insights and experiences. I can be more silent in some areas of my life while being a bit louder in others. I can do what I have always done – serve people in quiet, confidential ways where safety is key – while simultaneously choosing to share some other things in hopes they help somebody – like this podcast. Or any of my other podcasts.

What about you?

What will you decide is right for you?

Why will you make the choices you make?

Will you do it simply for yourself or will you do with others in mind, too?

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