Publication Note: This column was first published in the November 29, 2017 edition of the Lonoke County Democrat weekly newspaper, linked HERE in its original format. It is the 25th installment of the “Look at Lonoke” column.
Several nights ago, I stepped outside our house and noticed something unexpected on our street that stopped me in my tracks.
It was one of those rare fall weeks–we only get a handful of them each year, here in the Delta– where no one on our street was running their air conditioner. Condensing units were silent that evening, and there was not much traffic generating noise on Highway 70. Perhaps most significantly, the rice harvest had concluded, and, for the time being, the Riceland dryers were also silent.
The quiet made such an impression on me that I paused, and went back inside to get Natalie. We stood for a moment and marveled at the quiet. As a family of five with three sons under the age of 8, “quiet” is not something our neighbors are used to hearing from our little house! And yet, there we were, for a moment our town was relieved from the noise of a busy, ever-in-motion world.
Have you ever stopped to think that quietness is a gift? Silence is a rare and valuable treasure. Silence implies a degree of simplicity, even connoting the presence of an underlying peace.
Among the numerous privileges of living in Lonoke, our insulation from the pace and noise of the suburbs is often overlooked and underappreciated. Our town is, in a very real way, a destination for those who may seek clarity and creativity, unencumbered by the distraction and din that has become the default of modern life. Life in Lonoke demonstrates that we don’t have to be tethered to this default. Here, we can choose quietness and the peace that accompanies rural, small-town life.
Benjamin Zander has been the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra since 1979. Several years ago, he gave a talk on the transformational power of art, specifically music. In this talk, he makes a compelling observation, noting, “The conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound. He depends for his power on his ability to make other people powerful. My job is to awaken possibility in other people.”
Silence can be powerful.
Have you ever been in a conversation and realized that a person was talking continuously in such a way that they did not intend for you to reciprocate or respond? It sometimes seems that people can talk incessantly, and in doing so, create a barrier to other voices in the room and strip others of their ability to contribute. When our words, by volume, tone, or frequency, are used to exclude others, we are not advancing the health of our community.
Applying Benjamin Zander’s powerful observation, leadership is more about knowing when to listen, than what to say. Constantly talking not only cheapens the words we are saying, but it increases the probability that those words will become barriers to relationship, or worse, hurt those around us. If we are listening, our words cannot fail us. When we talk more than listen, others are pushed to the margins of the conversation; if we keep on talking, they may stay in those margins. In listening, we enable the marginalized voices of those around us to be heard. When we generate noise, we may only offer confusion and discord among our neighbors. The more we talk, the more likely we are to forget what we have said, and become entrapped in our own inconsistency. However, in our town, this does not have to be the case. We can choose to listen and hear one another.
When we seek to listen, we are making an important choice. Listening submits my time to yours, and yields my perspective to your posture. In that way, listening is a vulnerable act. Yet, maturity will enable a person to listen in such a way that others are honored by my silence, and opens the door of possibility for a more rich, vibrant dialogue that I could not have generated alone.
Our neighbors deserve a place, a platform, and a conversation in which they may express their concerns, talents, and perspective. Lonoke can and should be a place where the art we create may impact lives in the unique, special, and delightful moments that we appreciate and share together. If we listen, that art will speak. A quiet environment enables us to listen and hear what we have been missing.
Be deliberate. Be thoughtful. Be candid, but respectful. Take time to choose your words and give them power. In doing so, may you empower others to respond in a way that generates greater impact than if you had been the loudest and most forceful voice in the room. May your words remind others that you believe in them, and that you believe in Lonoke. This is how we cultivate community together.
Ryan Biles is an Architect who is married to Natalie, an Interior Designer, raising three sons on a quiet, tree-lined street in Lonoke. Archives of this column with additional content are online at http://www.lookatlonoke.com .