We live in a world starring extroverts: outgoing, gregarious, opinionated types are the ones who make a stir, succeed in job interviews, and win political campaigns. Even synagogues are run by dog-rabbis, rather than cat-rabbis. The success of the mega-church movement is predicated on a culture of welcoming, in-your-face friendliness, and ubiquitous “greeters.” In fact, I’d guess that the values of the Emergent Church movement arose as introverts’ reaction to the oppressive affability of Mega-churches.
Susan Cain, in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, gives many examples of times that extroversion leads us astray. The most glaring illustration is CEO’s who blindly bluster and blunder into reckless risks, deeming themselves “Too big to fail.” Yet no less titans of industry as Jack Welch and Bill Gates regularly take time without agenda or distraction, to be still, silent, and clear their minds. At first blush, listening to a book on tape or taking a stroll on the greenway can seem “unproductive” or “lazy.” Yet, it is in such times – riding a bike or listening to A Love Supreme – that kernels of great ideas germinate (decent sermons, too).
Truth be told, there is great value in reflection, reserve, and quiet contemplation. Ms. Cain makes ample points about successful cultures that value introspection: for example, East-Asia. Likewise, Judaism has a long tradition of esteeming silence. Midrash teaches, “Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: A word is worth a sela [coin], but silence is worth two, even as we have learnt in the Pirke Avot: Simeon his son used to say, ‘All my life I grew up among the Wise, and I found nothing better for a person than silence.’”
Frankly, in a world that prizes quick speech and witty repartee, it is not often easy to valorize stillness. In a busy world, we are challenged to make room for such pursuits. Nonetheless, even within every seeming extrovert, there are personality slivers seeking prayer, nature, books, or meditation. So for all of us, I’ll share some advice on finding what Leonard Cohen calls the “more subtle” silence. The first, from orchestra conductor and yoga instructor Brad Keimach: “Speak only if what you have to say is better than the silence.” Second, from the Psalmist: “God, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me./ Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me.”email print