Wednesday, April 26, 2023



Our washing machine has started talking to itself. Or maybe it is sending me Morse code messages via electronic beeps. Make it stop…

In my right ear: the washing machine. In my left ear: the neighborhood birds beginning their morning chorus. In my brain: the sincere desire for a few moments of silence.

There are a lot of loud voices at work in our community right now. It seems that there are some people who positively thrive on controversy. If there isn’t a controversy they will manufacture one. A day isn’t successful unless it contains a call to arms, revelations of “shocking facts”, or diatribes against “the other side.” I suppose it may always have been so, but social media amplifies it in a way that makes it both distorted and deafening.

Cartoon by Paul Noth, published in the New Yorker Magazine

What happens to the quiet voices? 

It seems to me that the quiet voices are important, too, and we aren’t hearing them. We may hear them in quiet moments when we connect with friends, neighbors, or coworkers in real life - - one on one, perhaps, or in a small group gathered to enjoy a shared activity. 

But quiet voices by their nature do not stand out or rise to the top: not on social media nor in public meetings. And, in fact, those are the kind of people who just may shrink from both. I am not suggesting that the views expressed by the quiet folks are necessarily correct or intrinsically better than the loud ones. I do think that we miss something if the way we share information as a community automatically sifts them out.

Our culture rewards “loud”. We often equate it with “strong”. It can be difficult to tell, especially on social media, whether that big voice is a sign of fully-fleshed ideas worthy of consideration or a small-minded person barking in a barrel. 

Social media turns everything into “us or them” and demands us to join a team. It will be Rabbit God vs Duck God to the death (see the above cartoon.) That is, if we buy into the premise. And it is very, very easy to buy in.  I do know some very good folks who don’t, or who take it with a grain of salt. 

To be honest, sometimes I wish they were more outspoken or took “my side” more fiercely. Often I learn from their conscious choice to be different. 

Many years ago, on Parents’ Weekend at Yale, Father Richard Russell preached a homily to assembled students and families at Thomas More Chapel. He spoke to the exceptional quality of the student body, the pride the parents had in their students, and the many blessings that a Yale education could offer them. He went on to talk about choices, and activities, and the relentless push for academic excellence that many of the students brought with them. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he leaned forward a bit and imparted his homily’s greatest lesson.

“Remember,” he said, looking out at the sea of self-satisfied parents, “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”

You can imagine how that went over. Of course, as a priest his message was about the deeper calling of faith against “…the world outside tugging at one with all its golden hands…” but that didn’t go down so well. Even at Mass. From a priest.

Winning was everything. You just don’t joke about that. 

I think of his words right now because I am weary of the rat rage (sorry, rat race) of controversy after controversy, demanding that we live in a state of hypervigilance. Our adrenaline is used up. We are not always who we want to be. Or, we think we absolutely are and others would beg to differ.

There are, without question, issues that are worth fighting for with every fiber of our beings, most notably those in support of basic human dignity and civil rights. But when every local disagreement is cause for leaving blood on the battlefield, what energy will we have left to fight the good fight?

How do we allow ourself to learn from the quiet voices? How do we foster experiences where they can be heard? Would it make a difference in our community life?

Tell me. I’m listening.

Village Green/Town² Comments.

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