Five years ago, I moved from a suburb to a quiet rural area about 45 minutes north of Madison. Our real estate agent was confused. “Why would you want to do that?” he asked.
I notice something when I return to Madison. A certain aggression in the driving—fighting for one’s place in line at the next traffic light. A cold suspicion as people walk by one another in parking lots or on the sidewalk.
Anonymous disconnected humanity. Neighborhoods that once felt safe no longer do.
Not everywhere and not always, of course. But it’s there.
I ponder this.
Not that long ago in human history, you might live your entire life and never encounter more than 500 people. Now you probably see 500 people on your morning commute.
Years ago, the only way I could find out what’s happening in your life was to sit down and talk over a meal, or chat as we plowed a field together. Now, I see your photos in microseconds as they scroll past in social media.
This changes us in ways that I don’t think we fully understand. It has conditioned us to think of other human beings as disposable objects—morons who drive too slow or maniacs who drive too fast—idiots on the wrong side of the political divide, objects of ridicule and scorn.
And we can afford to scorn because people are replaceable. They’re not in short supply; they’re everywhere.
I can tune into my favorite news media and listen to them crucify people I disagree with, and think it’s okay. Because, come on, those people aren’t really human are they? Not like me. They’re disposable, expendable, cheap.
Not long ago, if I wanted to know something, I needed to find a teacher or a book. Now I can consume video after video after video. And when I come up for air, I don’t even remember what I watched.
I no longer need to think because others will do my thinking for me. I—I’m speaking for the mass of humanity here—no longer know how to think because every few seconds my phone dings and tells me what to think.
There must be an antidote for this, right?
I find it in silence and solitude. I find it as I’m washing my dishes, taking a walk along a deserted road, or sitting alone with my thoughts.
In the vacuum of silence, I’m forced to face all the monsters inside. My fears. My anger. My guilt. My doubts. My tangled up thoughts.
And, yeah, that’s a good thing…because it drives me back to God, and allows me to find healing.
Silence is to the soul what a good night’s sleep is to the body: healing, restoring, calming, strengthening.
I find that silence allows me to think—to connect one thought to another, and to see things that maybe other people aren’t seeing.
And then when I come back to the world of noise and people, I’m a better person. By the grace of God, I’m a little more patient, a little more kind, a little more loving.