The Power of Silence by Cardinal Sarah suggests that noise has become a dictator in the modern world, and we need to intentionally and perhaps even violently remove ourselves from its clutches. “Sounds and emotions detach us from ourselves, whereas silence always forces man to reflect upon his own life,” the Cardinal writes.
Is this battle between noise and silence one that Christian business persons should be concerned with?
Yes. In The Meaning of the Monastic Life, Louis Bouyer writes, “In every Christian vocation is the germ of a monastic vocation.” All Christians are called to participate in the monastic vocation, living the sacrifice and silence of the monks to the extent that is possible. Even CEOs, Navy Seals, and stay-at-home moms are called to be monks in some sense! And one of the main characteristics of the monk is silence. So, what is this secret of silence that monks have realized?
The Secret of Words
Here’s the secret: Silence is for better, more intense communication, and not for isolation. The monastic life has always featured silence as a part of its regimen. Why? So that the words we pray to God and speak to each other carry their maximal meaning.
Silence Allows Time for Entering the Depth of the Heart
Proverbs 4:23 teaches, “With closest custody, guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life.” The monks practice silence to have time to plunge into the depths of their hearts and discover the words there. Thoughtful words come from silence. In silence, words and thoughts are filtered and refined, purified by the passing of time.
To draw a business connection, leadership guru Simon Sinek says that people don’t buy what you sell, they buy why you sell it. We can’t discover our Why (our purpose for what we do and say) without carving out the silence to encounter that Why. It is only by plunging into silence that we discover the Why. This valuable secret— the power of silence to discover our Why and mold and add meaning to our actions— is one to which monks make it a part of their mission to witness.
Silence is also linked to receptivity and wonder. Consider how Christ’s great mysteries all involve an element of silence. Pope Benedict XVI points out, “Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence.” For each to be meaningful, word and silence are inseparable!
Silence and Leadership
Sometimes the rest of the world forgets this lesson of silence. Because about 96% of leaders and managers report being extroverted, there can be a stigma that introversion, or actively seeking silence, is an automatic disadvantage for leadership. The reality is, interestingly enough, that introverts and extroverts are equally successful leaders overall; they simply bring different gifts to the table.
While it is often associated more with introversion than extroversion, silence is really something altogether different. It offers something unique that noise and banter cannot provide: “encounter, wonder, and kneeling before God,” according to Cardinal Sarah. In our relationship with God and in our relationship with other men, silence creates space for depth, for profound encounter.
Of course, silence isn’t only about being freed from outside noise. It’s also inevitably about freeing ourselves from ourselves, our ego, pride, and selfishness. It can be hard to face “the desert of our hearts,” but it is in that desert that we are purified from temptations.
Pope Benedict XVI on Silence
One of the most eloquent modern writers on silence is Pope Benedict XVI. His 2012 World Communications Day address is worth reading in its entirety, but here is a particularly rich passage:
Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible.
Silence is the birthplace of ideas, the context for self-knowledge, the place for encountering others… how beautiful is that!
Silence in Business
So, how do we implement the monks’ secret of silence in our own busy business lives? Here are three practical suggestions.
Fight for Silence
First, bear in mind that finding silence in the business world is a choice. Because of the intensity of mass media’s influence on our lives, passivity will not result in silence. Noise has become a dictator, as Cardinal Sarah points out, so we have to actively fight against that dictatorship if we want to be ruled by a quieter master. Don’t expect silence to appear on its own; actively pursue it.
Make Small Choices
Second, cultivating silence is something to work on in small ways. Choosing to keep the radio off on the way home from work, for instance, could be a good start. Choosing to guard one’s tongue from careless words and conversation is another area to pursue silence. Does the comment or critique need to be made? If not, don’t say it. Cultivating silence can also mean working on intentional communication: choosing to communicate interpersonally at least once a day in the workplace, for example.
Pause Three Times
Probably the best way to nurture silence in a fast-paced business world is this: Simply pause three times a day, for one minute of silence each time, to focus your energy. Bow your head and lift up your heart to God in silent, wordless, prayer. Do this first thing upon arriving at your desk. Next, do this the last thing after finishing lunch. Then, do this again before you leave the office. While a tiny time commitment, this intentional choice of silence can have a major impact.
Libraries should not be the place we most associate with quiet in our lives. Rather the quiet place we should visit on a daily basis is one in our heart, and that place is maintained by choices to cut out unnecessary noise from our physical surroundings. Let’s not be afraid of putting out into the deep of silence, or of the encounters we may have there with others, ourselves, or God. Let’s nurture the germ of the monastic vocation that God has planted in the heart of each of us, preparing ourselves to hear the words the Father wants to speak to us.
Want to read more secrets of the monks for busy people? Click here.