Breaking the Silence
This blog was first posted Dale’s LinkedIn Pulse Blog on 16 April 2020. Read the original version here
The last time that silence profoundly spoke to me was when I was propped up on a hospital gurney in the ER, surrounded by my family.
It was deafeningly loud in the hallway but I found myself suddenly cloaked in a curious cocoon of silence. I saw faces but heard nothing but silence. I was anxious, yes even afraid, wondering if I would come out of it. The things that usually brought me confidence, calm, and comfort did nothing. None of the accolades from being a CEO, none of the successes from recruiting and advising Fortune 500 business leaders were any comfort. My career was little preparation and even littler comfort for the harsh reality of that moment – I thought I was going to die.
Today I am healthy and well. My family is healthy and well. But I am reminded by this memory precisely because of the silence that arose when I was in my most vulnerable state.
The silence confronted me with the question, “Why do I do what I do?” For all of my passion and dedication to my work, I’d never been asked that question. Reflecting, I realized I‘d defined myself by the “what” not the “why.”
Lying there on that gurney, it hit me that I am more than what I do. I was reminded of the rich meaning of the word vocation, which derives from the Latin vocatio, meaning “a calling.” The Christian tradition imbues this word with an additional meaning of God drawing or calling us to particular roles, tasks, and purposes in our lives. I began to find comfort in my many callings, realizing why I do what I do. It should be for others, not for me or my personal ambitions or dreams. I try now to remember that the roles in my life, whether as a CEO, a husband, father, mentor, or friend, are all callings. They are not just titles and symbols of my life’s works but multifaceted opportunities to better love and serve others.
I believe the present pandemic, economic malaise, and social distancing offers us similar moments of silence. We are in a “global pause” that will forever change life as we know it. The pause from sports, concerts, plays, parties, restaurants, travels, exotic vacations, and even work and religion reduce our sources for optimism.
By facing a forced silence, we have the opportunity to rediscover and reclaim the things that matter most to us. Is it possible that in the midst of all of this noise, all of these privileges, that we have drowned out the voice and the wisdom of Oracles past? That we have gone silent ourselves and forgotten or given up on trying to answer the existential questions of life? There comes a time, Martin Luther King Jr. writes, when silence is betrayal. Betrayal to others and even ourselves. He goes on to say, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
What things matter to you?
The great Hebrew Shema prayer (“Hear, O Israel”)and other sacred biblical texts teach me what should matter most. We are taught we should love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
I hope I don’t waste the pain and loss of Covid-19, this new gurney moment in my life. It can be transformative if we would only break through the silence of our hearts and mind to remember the things that matter. Then and only then can we bring our full selves into this present darkness and back out into the light…
What is this moment saying to you?