My New Year’s Resolution for 2024 was shaped by a random moment. I was coming out of the shower, full of thoughts about a novel I’m working on. I suddenly noticed seven small makeup bags, replete with sample giveaways I’ve accumulated for way too long, tucked away in a corner.
Then, I thought that I had many small corners in my life needing cleanup. I was looking at only one. “It’s time,” I told myself. “My novel and its characters will have to await their fate. Mine is happening right here and now.”
And just like that, I was on my way to a New Year’s resolution. In my fictional character’s world, “Alfred” would call it “a perfect twofer.” I would combine cleaning with a thoughtful resolution that serves a higher purpose.
If my resolution were just about purging makeup, that would seem shallow. Instead, I decided to expand the concept of cleaning the small corners of my life to “creating space,” not just physical space.
Who doesn’t need more space in their lives? Space to explore, space to be, space to accept. Space means simplicity. Space means honoring the essentials. And then, while cleaning my corner of pouches, I identified the most important space of all to preserve.
The space to listen.
This would be a continuance of a long-sought goal of mine to improve communication skills, only taking it one level higher. It’s beyond the need to interrupt less or not formulate your response while others are still making their point.
Making the space to listen means suppressing a tendency to fill the space when a conversation goes silent. Since I am a good conversationalist, it’s not difficult for me to seamlessly interject something that fits. However, we lose something in the process.
When we let the silence linger, we allow shy people to jump in. We think a little more before stating our views. We demonstrate humility by acknowledging that answers aren’t always quick or easy.
At its core, respecting the silent moments is about adjusting our attitude of sharing what we know and learning from others. Bodies of research have shed light on the value of letting the silence linger. There is the so-called “Rule of awkward silence” for helping to build emotional intelligence, which goes …
The same researcher cites some of our most successful business leaders — think Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook — as practicing some version of the Rule of Awkward Silence.
There is also a practice called “intentional silence,” where one holds one’s response for four seconds of thoughtful deliberation. Counting to four seems easy enough, but some habits would need changing for the speaker and the listener. I would need to abandon my practice of quick responses, a byproduct of growing up in a large family and wanting to get my words in. Listeners’ habits would also need changing in a world where attention spans are short and patience is shorter.
This year’s resolution for respecting a lingering silence seems particularly important given the times. It is likely that 2024 will start like 2023 went out — filled with turmoil, angst and heightened sensitivities. Building a tolerance for the silent pause means there is a greater chance we will pick our words and cull our ideas more carefully, and we will give space for others to do the same. Or, as Winston Churchill once said, “We are masters of unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.”
I like my new goal of making space for silence. It started in the simplest of ways — taking a shower and noticing a pile — and will finish with an awareness of sanctifying a particular space. My new commitment to respect the silent pause in conversation is simple only on the surface. It might be my hardest resolution yet.
When I get wobbly, I will think of 19th-century poet Thomas Carlyle, who adapted the old Arabic proverb, “Speech is silver. Silence is golden,” and shortened it to, “Silence is golden.” What was true in the 19th century is true now, too.
So, 2024, I am ready! But you might see me before you hear me.