In a recent book review columnist Christine Rosen makes the following observation:
The colonization of silence has been going on for years. Muzak piped into elevators and shopping malls seems almost quaint, now that televisions and video screens are everywhere—in waiting rooms, restaurants and taxis—and every stroll down a store aisle is accompanied by a pop soundtrack. Even pumps at the gas station blare music and weather updates, and earphones make it possible to go through an entire day listening to podcasts, phone conversations or a playlist of tunes. Our eagerness for nonstop sound suggests that mere quiet is an uncomfortable experience for many people.
The theme of “mere quiet,” that Rosen speaks of, has featured prominently on this blog, which is perhaps testimony to the fact that it is one of the hardest disciplines to acquire. Our outward noise masks a perpetual escapism. Nor is it enough as an introvert (like myself) to protest against the extroverted clamor of postmodern society. Even sedate intellectual pursuits have their perils. As Samuel Johnson once said: “The great fault of men of learning is still, that they offend against this rule, and appear willing to study any thing rather than themselves” (The Rambler, 24). Quiet distractions, it seems, are still distractions. But admittedly outward tranquility and self-control make the “examined life” a little more attainable.
As we enter into the final weeks of Lent, I will take my usual break from writing. I leave readers with these thoughts from Thomas à Kempis:
It is easier to be silent altogether than not to speak too much. To stay at home is easier than to be sufficiently on guard while away…. No man appears in safety before the public eye unless he first relishes obscurity. No man is safe in speaking unless he loves to be silent. No man rules safely unless he is willing to be ruled. No man commands safely unless he has learned well how to obey. No man rejoices safely unless he has within him the testimony of a good conscience (Imitation of Christ, I.20, “The Love of Solitude and Silence”).