An exercise in silence

I am, once again, doing a “silence” project with my students.  Here is the write-up for this year:

“I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” – Pascal

“The present state of the world and the whole of life is diseased.  If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I should reply, ‘Create silence’.” – Kierkegaard

Students are invited to participate in this voluntary exercise.  You are free to participate to whatever degree you choose, or not at all.  But I should say that I am convinced that the greater the degree of participation in the exercise, the greater the impact of it.  So if you are going to do this, I would encourage you to put on the letter and more importantly the spirit of the following “laws”.

The exercise begins tomorrow at the end of class and runs until December 3 at the end of class.  Students are agreeing to:

  • not watch any television, movies, or other video
  • not listen to an iPod or other portable music device
  • not play any video games on any sort of device
  • not check facebook, twitter, or any other social networking site
  • not get on the internet (exceptions only for legitimate school work)
  • check email for only 15 minutes a day
  • treat their cell phone like a land line (plug it into the wall and leave it there)
  • not text message, video message, or use any other messaging/texting on a phone, computer or any other electronic device

These are the rules of the exercise.  Following them is a matter of your discipline and honor.  The spirit of the exercise is plain enough – detach yourself from glowing screens and the “digital world” and re-enter the real world for a few weeks.  I think you can do this, and will enjoy the fruits of having done so.  But if  you cannot do it all, remember Chesterton’s maxim that “if something is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”  Even if you can only cut yourself off from a glowing screen for 3 hours a day, that would be good.

As a sister project, which I think will come naturally, I would encourage you to give up multitasking.  The digital world inundates us with content, and presumes that more is better.  Multitasking is similar, it presumes that the point of life is to “get things done.”  But, in this season of thanks, perhaps we could refocus our priorities.  Be a lover instead of a doer; seek to be measured by your love rather than by your accomplishments.  After all, how would a lover like being part of a multi-task?  (Try texting on your next date while you talk to her and see how it goes over).  So be really intentional in the next few weeks in attending to what is before you.  Be a single-tasker.

Good luck!  Last thing: I encourage those who participate to write a very short (1 or 2 paragraphs) informal reflection on their experience.  Please post it to this post as a comment!

Author: Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.

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