Brother Mario Presciutiini suggests that in the context of De La Salle’s 17th century France, silence could be approached from three distinct definitions: a.) “to refrain from speaking,” b.) “to signify an order of the Rule,” or c.) “an interior attitude.” It is the later definition, “an interior attitude,” which informs our essay on the virtue of silence as encountered in the scholarship of business. Silence, as experience and practiced, needs not be a passive or solitary pursuit. We suggest silence can be approached as the skill and art of active listening and thinking, of creating, and building deep and thoughtful understanding.
Susan Cain, author of the bestselling book “Quiet: The power of introverts in world that can’t stop talking,” suggests the following:
The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it’s the Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers — of persistence, concentration, insight, sensitivity — to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply. Figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world, and make sure you contribute it. (Cain, 2012, p. 264)
For a faculty member directing dissertation research, it is in those times of review, revision, and silent collaboration that we often feel most creative. As ideas are deconstructed, themes revealed, and narratives brought to the fore, we support the creation of new understandings of business practice. This process is neither quick nor easy; as Cain suggests, this type of thinking draws on our concentration, insight, and sensitivity. Silence, or this “skill and art of active listening and thinking, of creating, and building deep and thoughtful understanding,” is at the heart of the research process.
From the perspective of a DBA student, we are constantly reading the words and thoughts of other people. Where their thoughts stop and ours begin is a constant challenge. On top of that, we are inundated by marketing, social media, and influencers telling us what to do, say, wear, and how to act. The need to disconnect, decompress, and analyze what we’ve experienced is something to consciously work to understand. In a world that values busyness and productivity, the silent moment can feel like a waste of time. Without being intentional about taking time for independent thoughts, are we truly going to be able to comprehend those creative concepts, or will it be another iteration of the same old things?
From Susan Cain’s research, we can see a change in how we view independent thinking and working. There is an overwhelming pressure for people to be charismatic, stimulating, and outgoing. However, the power of silence and quiet is quite profound. Some of the best works have come from deep solitude. Whether that be due to strong depressive episodes, think Vincent van Gogh, or being intentional about finding one’s truth. In the pits of reflection, thoughts can arise to new revelations on how to approach the world’s problems without the incessant racket.
A way that I find solitude and thought development easiest is when I alter my normal routine. It’s always simplest when traveling, especially without internet or phone services. This time away from my norm gives an opportunity to be in the moment, creating space to have original thoughts and experiences. It’s refreshing to the mind to be awakened by the challenge of forced learning. Showcasing how to do things without Google or someone there informing the perfect process to efficiently complete a task. It is in that discomfort, with that overwhelming lost feeling, where growth can take place. During those moments of silence, reflection, and quiet is where the feelings of strength and innovation become most present.
In this year of remote learning, many students and faculty have described how being constantly “on” virtual connection and social media has felt overwhelming: “Zoomed-out, Zoom-zapped, Zoom-zombie.” We hope that moving forward, we will again enjoy each other’s company, and be able to practice the interiority and joy of listening. In the words of Crash Davis, reluctant paladin in the movie “Bull Durham,” we can “just be.”
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown.
Presciutiini, M. (n.d.) Silence. Lasallian Themes, 58. https://assets.cdn.thewebconsole.com/S3WEB6094/images/Silence.pdf