For eight years I worked as an agent for Northwestern Mutual Life. My purpose was deliberate. I wanted to gain life experience and people skills before going to seminary. Northwestern Mutual is known as “The Quiet Company”. More than just a tag line, they’ve incorporated quiet into their operations model.
Every Wednesday was a “quiet day” in the home office. Underwriters wouldn’t take calls from agents. In fact, if you dared try the switchboard operators would turn you away with a gentle but firm reminder, “It’s quiet day.” The underwriters went about their work with no phones ringing. As agents in the field, we quickly learned that if we needed their help we better talk to them on Tuesday or it would have to wait till Thursday.
While at a company meeting in Milwaukee I had opportunity to have lunch with one of the underwriters who handled my cases. She told me that company wide the underwriters processed more business on Wednesday each week than the other four work days combined. Simply because they could work without interruption or distraction.
That’s the value of quiet.
Technology has made it possible for us to do anything we want 24/7. It wasn’t that way when I was a kid. Everything went quiet for at least a few hours. Especially if you lived in a small town. Banks opened at 9 AM and closed at 3 PM. (There’s a reason for the phrase “banker’s hours”). The Post Office closed at 5. There were no card readers at the gas station. If the Chevy needed a fill up, you better get there before John closed his DX station for the evening. And television? For a long time we only got one channel. KEYC-TV Mankato, Minnesota. My kids will never know the experience of hearing, after the late movie, “This concludes our broadcast day” followed by the National Anthem and the screen going fuzzy white.
Back in the day, even TV went quiet.
Today the noise never stops. There’s nothing you can do at 10 o’clock in the morning that you can’t do at 10 o’clock at night. We can bank, shop, dine out, and refuel at any time of day. Even do it yourself postal stations are open all night. Add the convenience of internet and we can take care of pretty much everything without leaving the couch.
Activity buzzes noisily along, 24/7.
I can’t speak for you but I’m guilty of having a lot of noise in my life. It started years ago when I went through some very difficult and lonely times. A TV or radio playing in the background kept me company. I like having the radio on in the car. I like music playing low when I’m working. Seems innocent enough. Yet if I’m honest, I’m pushing away the silence, treating it as something I’m afraid of.
And maybe I am.
For me, it’s the early morning darkness. Those first bleary eyed moments when feet hit the floor. No noise. No distractions. Just me. That’s when I feel the most fragile. It’s the most honest part of my day. Before I’ve layered myself with platitudes and self-talk. Before I start running my mental “to do” list. Before I turn on the coffee maker or the radio.
Those moments when it’s just me having to face me.
I’ve noticed something about myself. When I’m wise, I sit with the silence. It’s not always easy for me to do. Especially when silence is what I routinely push away. Yet when I manage to make room for it, to sit awkwardly with it, I seem better prepared for when the noise starts up again.
Years ago I met an artist in Scottsdale, Arizona. I don’t know his name. Everyone called him “Peaches”. He wore floral print Hawaiian shirts that resembled the large canvases of abstract patterns he painted. I asked, “When do you do your painting?”
With an “I’ve tried every time of day look” he said, “Always paint early in the morning. Because by noon there’s so much junk in your head you’re not creative anymore.”
At a practical level, how much more could we accomplish, publish and produce, ship and deliver if we unplugged from the noise and plugged into the quiet?
At a spiritual level, how much more would we hear God’s still small voice if we made room for some quiet each day?
However you do it, here’s hoping you make room for the quiet.
Who knows? Maybe in time we’ll actually make friends with it.
Todd A. Thompson – December 30, 2013