#0034 O is for Off

TED Radio Hour Episode: Quiet

Description: In this episode, we explore ways to find quiet in our busy lives. How can we step back and make time to reflect in an increasingly distracted and hurried world?

I was running out of podcasts to play because I didn’t know what mood I was in tonight. Would I like true crime, or audio drama, or pop culture podcasts? I was thinking about whether I should just sleep and cure my headache or still go in for podcasts when I saw this description. My life right now isn’t busy and quite peaceful, but something about the topic engaged me. I listened.

There’s this guy, I think his name was John Francis, who stopped talking for 17 years. On one certain day in the past, he had a realization that he argues and talks so much with a lot of people so he decided to stop talking for just one day to give it a rest. The next day, he still didn’t feel like talking and it went on for 17 years until he decided to talk again.

Seventeen years. For those years, he did not talk at all, but he heard. He listened to the conversations he had in the past, mulled over what he had said and what he should have said. He heard his inner voice, which, as he says, is a lot different than the voice other people hear.

As a person who spends most of the time alone, I could totally relate to this. Being an introvert, I draw my energy from the solitude and peace of being alone. But, as the podcast says, in our culture, we place a higher value on extroverts in all sorts of ways. Extroverts are favored in the society than introverts. People have always favored the man of action over the man of contemplation. It is the norm to prove yourself in a crowd of strangers. Qualities like magnetism and charisma seem to be more important. Introverts almost always don’t fit.

Especially today, with the advent of industrialization and increase in population in the Philippines, people love to shout whenever talking to somebody, play loud music in the streets, honk bus horns and gossip with neighbors. I could not find a quiet place, especially in the metro. I easily get annoyed when someone is talking during lectures or work. The podcast presented a scientific reason behind this. Introverts have nervous systems that react more to stimulations, from social stimulations to stimulations of lots of noise in a room. Meanwhile, extroverts have nervous systems that react less, and therefore, crave more stimulations in order to feel at their most alive and energized.

If you would notice, a lot of things in our environment cater to extroverts. In our office, there are desks for ten to twelve people facing each other. In school, too, kids are expected to be joining different student clubs and be officers and leaders. But we’re not complaining. We’re not advocating to abolish teamwork at all. What the podcast says, which I fully support, is that if you give introverts more freedom to be themselves, they are more likely to come up with unique solutions to the different problems we encounter, since, they somehow have a different view on things than what is the norm. Also, if we lessen the noise a little bit and try to speak softly, and listen more, we get more ideas for thinking creatively.

So much for the guy. The next guest was Megan Washington, a popular musician from Australia. What’s different about her is that she seeks sounds in order to have quiet. She sounds like a pop star, an extrovert. But when she went up on the TED stage, she revealed a secret. She has a stutter. (The next parts really got my attention and I decided I have to write about this episode.) Even her closest friends don’t know that she stutters. When she was still a child, she had hopes that when she grows up, she wouldn’t have the stutter, but she still does up to now. It’s hard for someone like her who’s constantly performing on stage in front of a lot of people.

Her singing became the therapy for her speech disorder. If she talks in a song, she wouldn’t stutter. Aside from singing (here comes the part that really got to me), she can also use a character voice to disguise her stutter. This character voice was what she always used to get through interviews and times when her stutter is not so welcome. When asked what the character voice sounds like, she answered in it. I was so amazed. She suddenly started talking in a soft, smooth and confident voice without a stutter. It sounded a lot like her, but it wasn’t her real voice. It was only the voice that gets the job done. She felt that using the character voice is like cheating. That is why she loves singing.

“Singing is more than making nice sounds, it’s more than making nice songs, it’s more than feeling known or understood, it’s more than making you feel the things that I feel. Somehow, through some miraculous synaptic function of the human brain, it’s impossible to stutter when you sing.”

When she sings, her whole restless, uncomfortable being becomes quiet, I think “tenseless” was her word. Singing is stillness. Singing is calm. “Singing for me is sweet relief. It is the only time when I’m fluent. It’s the only time when what comes out of my mouth is comprehensively exactly what I intended.”

I was deeply touched by her story. She found her escape the bitter reality of her disorder by overcoming it with singing. The way she loves her music made me feel hope, that however difficult problems might be, I can overcome. When she TED sang in the TED Talk, I almost cried. Her voice is so beautiful. I find myself feeling the sweet relief, too.

The next guest was the founder of a cloud appreciation society. I didn’t know that was a thing in other countries. There’s something about that quiet moment when you stop, look up, and notice the cloud. They’re beautiful. It’s just that their beauty is often missed because clouds are always present, so commonplace, that people don’t notice them. If there was such a society or a club in the Philippines, I would gladly join. I often look at the clouds, especially when I’m in the province, and I would get this wondrous, nostalgic feeling of identifying the shape of the clouds, or what they resemble. I find beauty in the sunlight bursting out from behind the clouds and see the huge rays pointing to the horizon. I enjoy watching the birds fly freely in the sky, wishing they would take me just one time so I could also see from above. Tuning in with the clouds is like to calm down, to slow down, like a meditation to be reminded that being in the present, not thinking about what to do and what you should have done… just being here, letting your imagination drown your concerns, is good for you and your soul.

We all have our ways of finding quiet in our busy lives. Whether we stop talking, start singing, look at the clouds, whatever our ways are, we need to step back and reflect. Are we in the right direction? Do we find ourselves in this wonderful place where we’ve gotten into but feel like there’s another place for us to go? Do we find it hard to leave the security of who we’ve become instead of going to who we are supposed to be? We will not realize the answer to these questions if we do not find a moment of silence in our lives – a moment to think and listen to others.



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