A Wish for Peace…and Quiet

canstockphoto8203272Leonardo da Vinci wrote that silence was the best way to strengthen authority. Lincoln suggested that the sin of silence, instead of protest, made cowards of men. Neither was on Facebook or Pinterest, nor could they have envisioned the great equalizing platform of social media, where blowhards get as much airtime as critical thinkers.

I’d written a long draft for my blog about the murders in Paris, which I left unpublished. Often I allow events in the news to pass by my writing with nary a whisper. I am deliberately obtuse at times. Too often we try to draw our connection to tragedy, try to put ourselves in the picture, try to see what it means to us. It rings false to me, like filling the air with anecdotes from the brother of the barber’s cousin who ate at that particular cafe in 1987. Perhaps it is our cry to say me too.

I’ve been on the periphery of tragedy in my life. Sometimes I tell the stories. A murdered grandfather. Suicide by my father and an aunt. A mass campus shooting ending violently in a classroom where I had been the hour before. These are stories that make me, for a few moments, interesting in the eyes of others. It’s the kid performing Over the Rainbow and telling knock-knock jokes at Thanksgiving. It’s the ham and the drama queen waiting at the edges of my ego to break out in tragic dance.

If I wait a little while, bite my tongue, and let the story sink in, my narcissism fades to a gentle murmur. I imagine myself having dinner with friends at a sidewalk cafe. I imagine being at a concert. I imagine walking home on a warm evening. I imagine that moment when it all turns from routine to terrifying. I feel the solidarity of my humanness, sadness and sympathy and anger all at once. I feel empathy.

There is the sentiment that we can let the victims and families know we’re sorry for their loss, but those words fall on grieving, frightened and mostly, deaf ears. I am sorry about the loss of human life anywhere, but saying it to the internet has all the veracity of signing an office sympathy card, accompanied by those trite phrases we use, so that we don’t look like assholes. You’re in our thoughts. Wishing you comfort. Our prayers are with you. I don’t want to fill the air with my nothingness.

The voices of outrage come out in full force, relentless anger directed at them, at us, at anything that’s a moving or easy target. Presidential candidates fall over themselves trying to prove how many people they’d kill in response to this nightmare. Political idealogues and bigots of every persuasion grab hold of the pain and anxiety in vain attempts to support their own version of hate.

This is not my story. This is not my opportunity. This is not my moment on the stage. This is my time to listen, to learn, and to try to comprehend other people’s stories. I don’t stay silent because I don’t care.  I stay silent because, at this moment, nothing I say will make as much difference as listening.

84 Comments on “A Wish for Peace…and Quiet

  1. Thank you for putting this so much more politely then I could. Honestly to me it seems like they are using this tragedy as a one upper against each other. I will sit here and listen with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am always reminded of how little I know when news like this happens. It usually sends me into a reading marathon to educate myself. Much wiser to say “I don’t know, but I will try to learn” than to belt out some opinion.

      Liked by 4 people

      • I know that this sounds horrible but I choose not to follow the news, not because I don’t have empathy for other people but because the media just gives us what they want us to see. This was one of the rare times I actually did turn the news on and watch it. Still heart breaking.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree…Silence in no way means you are unfeeling…i too feel the need for silence, not to change may profile pictures with color, or to state my feelings before i have comfortably wrapped my mind around the issues. i will leave more room for words that do not need retracted after the emotion has been controlled. I do not stand by watching…i quietly gather it up and hold it until i can give the chaos the words it deserves, with absolute care! and yes…your act of listening has more power.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree with you, in that reactionary words end up sometimes being ones we want to retract. While I think there is nothing wrong with expressing sympathy – it’s a civilized response to the horrifying nature of an event, I think some people overestimate its value and fail to follow through on the critical thinking piece. It does very little justice to say “sorry about that” and then move onto the next shiny object, which is sometimes the nature of conversation these days. I like what you said about giving chaos the words it deserves, with care.

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  3. Brilliant sane voice here…but sometimes we speak out when we identify with victims. It adds to the noise but lightens up our hearts. Wonderfully written😀

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    • Thank you. I think it would be a shortcoming on my part to not identify with the rest of humanity, but I worry that “lightening my heart” makes it all about me. And we have a lot of that in our society as it is. Sometimes taking just a moment, leaves the attention where it should be.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m with you. I ended up needing to write about a small interaction I had at the library, a woman threatening to whip her little girl when they got home. Somehow the violence in her threat seemed so enormous, and so of a piece with the Paris violence. I could say nothing about Paris, but had to share what felt like the pain of the world in a moment. Strange how the heart works.

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    • I read your post, Melanie and will return to it to comment, but it was another case of really needing to think things over. I am reminded of Miss Marple and how her observations in her little village, of tiny actions and human emotion, taught her lessons about the whole world. There is something of great value in observing and thinking deeply about relevance and meaning and choices. Even in the microcosms of our own lives.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, so can I and there’s nothing wrong with the passionate response – but this issue is so complex that I welcome considered thoughts such as yours, which help me put together my own contribution – a post I need to make before returning to my usual quirky preoccupations …

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I totally agree…silence is golden and listening to the stories of others is much moreasier sincere

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    • And that’s another aspect of all of this for me. Maybe it’s a failing, but anything I could say would seem insincere. My sincerity often comes from remaining silent and trying to be thoughtful.

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  6. Brilliant. And true. Glad there are still people with heart after all we go through with the media. Thanks. PS Even an office card is better than nothing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you. Having been an office employee for much of my working career, I’m not so sure about the card. Too often I remember being pressed to sign this card or that and would have to copy what someone else said just to get it done. Unfortunately, forced sentiment is not one of my better skills!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So well and powerfully said Michelle. The Lord also tells us to Be still. It is sobering to realize that SOMETHING MUST be done…. But what? I am in solid agreement that listening and learning is paramount to inform the WHAT. As we contemplate our Countries collective upcoming decision making events, I pray that there will be a whole lot more quiet, still, serious listening, deep deep down in our hearts and a quickening in our brains.

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    • Thank you. I think there is a huge disconnect between the news we hear and how immensely powerless we can feel. I am very concerned whenever something happens during a political campaign cycle, as each candidate tries to “one up” the other on toughness, playing off our impotency as citizens. It changes the nature of the rhetoric. For me, it means being diligent in my attention. Mindfulness requires that I close my mouth and listen.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I cannot tell you how *much* I agree with all of this. I could go on and on, but you said it all so beautifully so I won’t.
    Alison

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  9. Reblogged this on assuntamaria's Blog and commented:
    So well and powerfully said Michelle. The Lord also tells us to Be still. It is sobering to realize that SOMETHING MUST be done…. But what? I am in solid agreement that listening and learning is paramount to inform the WHAT. As we contemplate our Countries collective upcoming decision making events, I pray that there will be a whole lot more quiet, still, serious listening, deep deep down in our hearts and a quickening in our brains.

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  10. I felt this way about the Sandy Hook shootings, thinking it was interesting to readers to hear we first learned about it on a German radio, having arrived in Germany for Christmas — but sat on it for a while because I felt it deserved respect, then had to say something to kind of process it, get it out of my system. It seems so often, we turn things into our own experience as a way of relating to it. It’s a strange age, when everyone has access to the mic, yet I relish it. Yet quiet really hits the spot at times like nothing else.

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    • I did write a post about Sandy Hook, when I was preparing to pick my child up from her own elementary school. My own anxiety threatened to swallow me whole, so writing relieved some of the pressure. I looked back at it and my entreaty was still the same – let’s take a moment here, folks. Glad to know that I’m consistent in some respects.

      I think it’s human nature to try to identify with others, but then that snake can turn around on us and we can only see things through our own eyes, instead of remaining open to the unfamiliar. Quiet is hitting the spot a lot these days.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. As a writer living in Paris, I really needed to read this post. I have a blog and I feel like there are a lot of eyes from back home and on my social media because of my geographic proximity to the attacks. And of course, I have needed to write for myself about what has happened and the world at my doorstep so that I can process what has happened around me and what my place is in all of it. But I have been very hesitant to post anything about it for exactly the reasons you mentioned, going back and forth between whether to satisfy my ego and say “I am here, I am here!” or to just observe and take in what is going on around me for myself and no one else’s “benefit.” Reading your thoughts on this that are so well expressed has helped me decide to just listen. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your experience. I have a conversation with a friend who loves to take pictures. Sometimes she does it to the point of completely missing out on what is actually happening. I think, in some ways, it gives us emotional distance. The downside is that we fail to process what is happening in the moment.

      I appreciate that you are being thoughtful in whether or not to write about it. One thing I might suggest, since you could bring a unique perspective, is to take notes and write for yourself. At some point, you might want to write about it publicly, bringing a thoughtful perspective into a world that really needs more of that – that’s exactly what I listen for. Best wishes to you.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Amazing punch in the end —
    “This is my time to listen, to learn, and to try to comprehend other people’s stories. I don’t stay silent because I don’t care. I stay silent because, at this moment, nothing I say will make as much difference as listening.”

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  13. Reblogged this on Dolce Vita and commented:
    “This is not my story. This is not my opportunity. This is not my moment on the stage. This is my time to listen, to learn, and to try to comprehend other people’s stories. I don’t stay silent because I don’t care. I stay silent because, at this moment, nothing I say will make as much difference as listening.”

    Liked by 1 person

      • No irony for me in that respect. Sometimes the request for silence needs to be loud. Okay, now that is ironic. It seems that a large segment of society is so desperate to feel significant that they attach themselves to tragedy and/or make bad decisions when posting on social media in an attempt at affirmation. Just something I have observed. Nevertheless, I enjoy your post. xo Whitney

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m so with you on this. I’ve read some very thoughtful analyses of the wider view and all I can take from them is that I know nothing. It’s a huge tangle that encompasses all in the world that is changing.
    All I can do is what is in front of me and in me—try to stay open to curious compassion, watch my reactivity, meet people who are different from me with kindness and acceptance.

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    • This is exactly how I feel when something happens in the news – the further I dig and the more I read, the more I recognize how very little I actually know. I really like that phrase “curious compassion”. There is something to be said for observational skills that are kind – so much the opposite of what our critical brains usually lean towards.

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  15. Pingback: Listening…. | RJ's Corner

  16. Thank you for this different perspective. I agree completely with what you are saying. X

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  17. Hi Michelle. Thank for your insight. Yes if we could only listen to each other we would understand each other more. I have written a blog on my personal experience of terrorism in Ireland, you might like to have a look at it.

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    • I just read and enjoyed your post. I think part of the listening is not just about empathy and compassion, but learning. So many people rush to solutions without knowing the whole of the situation or understanding the people or cultures at work.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes your right. I feel a lot of issues that arise between groups of people, local or international,develop from judgement. There can be a lack of understanding when people judge each other, there`s a lack of knowledge of the other and so people believe stereotypes because that`s the only information they have. Learning about each other in difficult situations is vital. Community groups in Northern Ireland were helped the peace process by organising exchanges between students in Southern Ireland and students in the North, so we could learn about each other. I went on one of these trips to the North. I was apprehensive because the media were circulating stories of violence and aggression that the Protestants inflicted on the Catholics. The Protestants were war-like we were told by the media, aggressive and dangerous. Stay away from them. I wanted to find out for myself so I went on a bus with fellow students and we met Protestant people in their communities. I was stunned by their kindness and we were made to feel so welcome, just like the hospitable people at home I thought. I met I.R.A men that had been imprisoned the following day. They spoke words of hate about the lovely people I had met the day before. The Catholics and Protestants were not talking to each other apart from the community groups who were fed up with violence. There was probably hundreds of student exchanges after that. Then everyone sat around a table and talked to each other. The Good Friday agreement was born and peace came to Ireland. Peace came because people learned about each other and began to talk to each other. I hope and I wish that the same process developes in other war torn countries, that soon all peoples will learn about and speak to each other without fear.

        Liked by 2 people

  18. Michelle, your integrity is inspiring and I think people like you make a difference in this world. Thank you!

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  19. “listen more” – Those two words pop up as an event on my calendar every morning. I added them one day when I had come home feeling that I’d said too much in one of my classes. I often feel this way. So, I decided to give myself a reminder, every day, to zip it. Sometimes I forget, but the next day I am reminded again. I need to be reminded. I think maybe we all do. Thanks.

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    • That is a fabulous reminder, Honie. So simple and yet profound. I always feel like I talk too much – sometimes my brain doesn’t slow down enough to really listen to what the other person is saying. I’m overwriting everything with my own story. It’s a challenge and a worthy one. Hope you’re hanging in there!

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  20. Silence online is often unfairly assumed to mean that the person is uncaring or worse, out-of-touch and literally behind the times (no matter if an incident happened just yesterday). It’s as if one’s empathy for tragedy or understanding of a complex issue is measured by how rapidly one posts a meme or changes their profile picture (and how many likes it generates). Silence – and the space it gives for the slow, patient work of reflecting and connecting – provides an antidote against the very noisy, always-moving-on selfie culture. Thank you, Michelle, for breaking your silence in the name of championing silence. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I often find that expressing depth of emotion before fully feeling it and sitting with it, takes away the impact and meaning. You make a wonderful point about silence and the space it makes for introspection. Much like sleep, our brains need time to absorb, process and integrate information and we don’t need to wait until we’re sleeping to do it. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      Liked by 2 people

  21. Empathy is the new narcissism.
    Do you think highly of yourself? Do you often have pleasurable tinges of self-righteousness? Do you know, in your heart of heart, that swaths of the population are beneath you? Then do it – go ahead and tell the world how much pain you feel for everyone else, everywhere, every time. The internet (as well as yourself) would like to know how empathetic and oh-so-compassionate you are.

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    • I couldn’t decide if I should be defensive or just nod in agreement to this comment. I’ve had moments when I’m buoyed up by my own piousness and generally try to deliver a sound slap to my brain when it happens. I can also be guilty of the opposite – staying silent when I should have made a sympathetic murmuring. On the internet, in the company of strangers, it all seems incredibly awkward and self-conscious.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. You’re so right, Michelle. We the people have genuine, fellow-feeling for the victims of tragedy, so our motives are pure to some extent. But I also think that we, all to often, want full points for just HAVING those pure motives. We want an A for effort when we have made no real effort.

    That’s bull. Everybody with an ounce of compassion feels bad, but what do we DO? What do I DO?

    I’ve often said that my personal road to hell is paved with all sorts of good intentions. I have a feeling there’s going to be a traffic jam on that road.

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    • And there is where it all hinges, Peg. There’s enough people saying things, but how do we translate those ideas into action? I’m often paralyzed by the enormity of some problems. It feels like spitting into an ocean. Sometimes it just starts with listening and learning. It feels like doing nothing, but if more people, including those in politics, did that, I imagine there would be better choices being made. There’s a lot of idealists on that road to hell as well, I suppose.

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  23. Yes. Excellent observation, reflection, quiet wisdom.

    When I first began looking at the bulk (not all!) of the pieces chosen for Freshly Pressed, even attempting to put my own unchosen sour grapes aside, it felt to me that there was a preponderance of weighty-matter posts chosen that fell in the preaching-to-the-choir jumping-on-the-bandwagon variety. It’s not that the bloggers were at fault for feeling what they felt or writing about it. It’s more that it seemed to me the FP folk were choosing pieces based on how well their content matched a (liberal) politically-correct topically-current agenda.. If unconsciously using such criteria, the FP judges were encouraging the behavior you describe by presenting it as the ideal.

    Shame on those bad judges and self-indulgent look-at-me–too writers. They both remind me of how folk chime in unnecessarily in comments, long after other readers have had their say, merely to add “Yeah! Me, too! I think so, too!”
    😀

    Never mind. I’ve said enough. Too much.

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    • I can’t make frowny faces about the whole Freshly Pressed thing, since it’s helped me gain some readership over the years (Note: FP no longer exists). I will say, though, that when the news is all bad, people look to strong voices to frame it for them.
      It’s not my choice to write about it, but I have read some posts that were thoughtful and critically written. I think the worst of the worst is in the short form of Facebook memes and Twitter blurts. And massive bandwagon jumping before the facts are in.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Again, Michelle, I never said many FP pieces weren’t outstanding. Yours, Barbara’s of Silver in the Barn, Heather’s (Master of Something Yet), …

        It was the homogeneity to which I referred. And I always felt, and still feel, that never-awardeds, IF they have excellent pieces, should be awarded ahead of already-awardeds. (How I think affirmative action should work, too.)

        I haven’t yet had time to look over the pieces being selected for “Discover” to see if they vary more than did the bulk of pieces in (what I believe was) FP’s unconsciously-limited palette, but I see that multiple genres are offered and submissions are entertained–two promising notes. I think it would be lovely if one could submit the work of another, if a cap were placed on this (to prevent large friend-and-family groups co-nominating member repeatedly).

        You made me think more generously by your answer regarding the bandwagon-jumping. What you said makes sense. As well, I realized that in my own case, my blog is not only a public forum, but my diary and my therapy. When I write something personal, I work out how I feel about it. I’m sure it’s the same for others. Therefore, it only makes sense that hundreds would write similar pieces about similar highly-publicized emotion-inducing events.

        Duh, Babe!
        🙄

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  24. Pingback: A Wish for Peace…and Quiet | BadCar

  25. You touch upon a few extremely important patterns around usage/abuse of social media and the importance of silence in the moment when it is needed most. Very rarely I (at least me) come across such pieces where the author writes about the issues with such pragmatism and eloquence, with an apt choice of expressions. Loved it. [sorry if this post is shelved in archival oblivion, coming in a bit late]

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    • Thank you for your kind words. I think time can make a critical difference in a writer’s perspective, as well as simply having more information. We see this in reporting – the media is so competitive about getting a story out there first, that their reports seem unvetted, incomplete and in some cases, patently false. Even and maybe especially, social media writers need to wait a few beats.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. Nice…
    I like your blog so much. You are good in writing..
    keep writing and stay connected.. : )

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