Listening for quiet moments

[Think about it.]
Can you name that one book that you read in high school that changed the way you thought about the world? You probably read a lot of books in high school but for some reason this was the book that really stuck. Can you name it?

For me it was The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. It was the book that helped me to appreciate the world as it came to me, both the yin and the yang, as enriching, equally important complements. It was the book that made me understand how sentimental I am for words and what great power they have over me. It’s one of the few books that I re-read time and again.

Can you name the one album or song that changed your perspective when you were young? Beyond everything you heard on the radio, for some reason this was the album that was pivotal for you.

For me it was Kid A by Radiohead. My brother gave it to me as a birthday present, and although I really wanted to like it and think it was cool, it was mostly just weird at first. (Treefingers, anyone?) So I listened to it over and over, and as I started to appreciate new things about it, something dramatic happened: I discovered album liner notes. And record labels. And then opening acts and side projects. Kid A led me to OK Computer, the 1997 album by Radiohead that was regarded in some circles as the best album of the 1990s, and to Sigur Rós, the Icelandic band making atmospheric, beautiful music who toured with Radiohead in support of Kid A. Sigur Rós led me to Björk, Jóhann Jóhannsson, and múm (all Icelandic artists) and Constellation Records (a Canadian record label that shared a kindred spirit) and each of these bands led to half a dozen others. And of course each of those bands had their own opening acts, side projects, and liner notes too. I went from listening to music to being a fan of music. Seeing these connections was an ah-ha! moment that reshaped my relationship with music, and it continues to be a guiding metaphor in how I try to navigate a sea of new, yet somehow connected, ideas.

[Talk about it.]
What other experiences have changed your perspective: a moment of earthly humility while gazing through a telescope? A childhood insult whose sting took years to wear off? That conversation that allowed you to realize that your parents were actually people too?

I’m curious about the ways that our perspectives are shaped and how so many of these formative experiences exist only as personal, silent memories. How many people have touched me in lasting ways they don’t know? How many things have I said and forgotten, which are now quietly carried on by other people? 

As I prepare for the school year ahead, I am increasingly mindful of the impact I may have as a teacher — and yet never know about. In a larger sense I am mindful of the incredible challenge and responsibility each of us has to respect other people for all 360 degrees of their humanity, regardless of situation or circumstance, despite the fact that we can only ever have one narrow view of them at any given time.

[Act on it.]
All of this leads me to wonder: what would happen if we gave voice to these personal, silent memories? What would happen when we discover the lasting impact of the little things we do? My hope is that we might see familiar themes in the people around us and that in the end this commonality might help us treat each other a bit more humanely.

I’ve been trying to explore these ideas in a few ways recently. Last month I led an 8 person mini-workshop via Google Hangout. I planned an activity to trigger a conversation on these themes, but it didn’t work out the way I had hoped. I’d like now to try something new, and this time I’m asking you, dear reader, for your help. My next attempt will be a platform for the same ideas but in a new setting and for a new audience.

Now help me complete this thought:
Context: My school gathers once a week for Meeting for Worship. Students and faculty alike sit in silence for 40 minutes; if anyone is moved to speak, he or she stands and shares a message.

Opportunity: Meeting for Worship is frequently a place where these quiet formative moments are given voice in public. But what nags me are all of the messages that go unsaid. I’d like to create an alternative avenue for these messages to be expressed and received.

Concept: I’ve got a half-baked idea for a suggestion box of sorts. People would be invited to share their messages, anonymously or not, either by pen and paper or electronically. The responses gathered would have a chance to be shared publicly (most likely after being screened by an adult. It is still a high school after all). The logistics and the presentation of sharing these messages are entirely up for grabs in my head.

So here’s the design prompt: how might we create a visible, communal (and optionally anonymous) platform for people to share these moments, to receive them, and to feel more connected to each other through them?

So far my solution has a lot to do with thoughtfully chosen typography, but I’m afraid that’s about all I’ve got. Can you help me take the next step?

Whether or not this design prompt goes anywhere, it is the listening that matters — and on the first day of school already I’m sure that it is what will guide my year ahead.

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5 thoughts on “Listening for quiet moments

  1. Beautifully written as always, BC. I’ll be sure to put some thought into this idea. From what I understand of FCS, alongside my own relationship with our flavor of Meeting, I think this could be a platform that further enriches the community, complementary to the already existing public fora. Best wishes for this school year!

  2. BC you always manage to write about aspects of life that usually go unnoticed by the majority of the people on earth. I have always had those life changing moments, the words that your parents said that stuck with you for 10 years, even if they were about something completely banal, the moments, the books, and the thoughts that are stuck in the mind. The thing for me though is that I rarely get to appreciate them on a day to day basis, they only seem to crop up when a relevant scenario or train of thought unearths them.

  3. I had an interesting discussion in class about worship when someone was talking about the difference between public and private worship. The prof objected, saying that private is not the counterpart of public, but rather personal worship is the counterpart of public worship. He said the distinction is important because even those personal moments of prayer or reflection are still about the building up of community. We are still about corporate worship even in those moments of quiet by ourselves. So how wonderful to emphasize that by finding a way to share the quiet reflections that don’t find public voice in worship and acknowledge that they are still a part of the corporate worship experience. You’re doing that right here with this blog.
    In MIddle School we often have a query during Meeting for Worship. It would be interesting to have a digital space or board space to continue to share thoughts on the query throughout the week.

  4. Part of it solution is how to create context that makes depth possible. In Meeting, there’s space to just sit quietly and listen a long time, to yourself, to each other, to a higher power of your understanding, to the silence. I feel like that depth of listening is hard to reproduce. You get it in late-night dorm conversations, maybe, and in healthy 12-step fellowships. It’s something that Meeting (or church) has the potential to do well that’s hard to find elsewhere. Which is not at all to say it’s not possible, so much as suggesting part of the challenge is, generally, how do you get people to go deep with other people quickly? I think giving people a prompt could invite that. Is it prompts that rotate, or are different for every person, a sort of Oblique Strategies deck kind of thing where each person is presented with a something that offers an entry to engagement.
    I also wonder if part of what makes Meeting is the way different people sharing connect with each other — even if no one is consciously responding to what others are saying. So: can you use physical or digital space for the things shared to have that conversation with each other? Can good typography and interface create a landscape of text for people to travel through?
    So: ideas but not solutions 🙂 All good wishes for the teaching year.

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