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February 3, 2011

Hawthorn Hill: Quietness


I want to make a case for quietness.

Thoreau writes that he never found a companion as companionable as solitude. It is a sentiment that I share.

As I sit here looking out over the snow-covered hills I am struck by the absence of movement. I am awed by a stillness unstirred by wind or activity of any kind. There is no noise, neither human nor animal. How nice that is.

Unfortunately, we live in a world characterized by noise, one seemingly uninterested in engaging in the deep and reflective thoughtfulness that should always precede speech. It seems to me that in order to communicate more efficiently, and more effectively, we need to chatter less.

There have been occasions when I have characterized someone as non-verbal. It has not always been meant as a compliment. It usually refers to my inability to communicate with someone about something important to both of us. Some of us are better with words than others.

These days I am beginning to think that my past criticisms have been unfair, even misguided. In a world where senseless and thoughtless chatter seems to characterize everyday human life, it pays to be non-verbal. In retrospect, I know that someone who chooses his words carefully or opts to say nothing at all is just as capable of deep thoughts and reflection as anyone else. There have been times when I have wished I had kept my thoughts to myself, that I had chosen to keep my trap sealed.

At a dinner party several months ago a friend observed that at some point I simply shut down. I shut down quickly. I often describe it as hitting my wall. I just get to the point where I have said all I have to say and am content to sit back and listen. I enjoy listening. It is a wonderful way to learn. If something has been said that strikes me as memorable, or worth thinking about further, I will often make some notes in my journal.

Or, I will just pack it away in my brain, assuming that should it be companionable with a future thought it will find its way out of memory’s storehouse. As I have written elsewhere, my most energetic conversations tend to be with myself or someone I imagine myself to be conversing with.

One place where quiet does not prevail is politics. It used to be that the President sent a letter to the Congress detailing his view of the Union’s state. Now we have these grandiloquent grandstanding affairs followed up by an opposition address, usually prepared well in advance of the actual speech. I yearn for the days of yore when a well-crafted letter sufficed.

We have press conferences, almost non-stop, where sartorially spruced up advocates of this and that tell us what they think we believe. And then there is texting. I stopped at a Mass Pike service center on the way from Boston several days ago.

As I walked through the first set of double-doors I saw a poster on the wall to my right that reminded teenagers that in Massachusetts it is against the law to text while driving. The ludicrousness of such a thing is obvious. But then again, these days the silly seems always to nudge out the rational.

The campaign for the presidency, even though the election is two years away, has already begun. It will swing into a full court press shortly. Talk about non-stop verbal diarrhea! My solution is simple.

Anyone wishing to run for office puts together a brochure, in plain English of course, outlining his core beliefs and positions on the issues.

One copy is then mailed to every registered voter – at government expense. Three weeks prior to the election all certified candidates meet to debate the issues. That is it. Some might argue that there would be too many people unaware or uninformed. Well, too bad.

As illiberal as it sounds, it is the individual’s responsibility to do what is necessary to be informed. It will never happen, but it is nice to think that it might – someday. Finally, a nation that legally determines that money is speech is in deep ethical and moral trouble.

My dog Gabby and I communicate all the time and we never say one word to one another.

If we talked less we might just begin to communicate with one another. As Emily Dickinson put it so many years ago, finding the right word is akin to tasting that signal sip of communion wine.

Local resident Richard Derosa writes periodically for The Cooperstown Crier.