I was in Chicago for a convening with six high ranking officials. I hadn’t said much all day. I was quiet and shy. I felt intimidated in the presence of these accomplished individuals.
As the meeting drew to a close, one official turned his attention to me, “Santi you’re really quiet over there.” I laughed nervously. Another turned to me, “Santi, you quiet storm you.” She chuckled as she said this and the entire room burst into laughter. I had never heard that saying before. Nervously, I laughed along, but I thought about what she said.
What is the meaning of a “quiet storm?” A storm is fierce, it sweeps away all excess with gusts of wind, it washes away undesired silt, dirt, and soot with sweeping rain, and it subdues even the meanest of us with its lightning and thunder. How can such an awesome force be silent?
Silence can be many things in many contexts. Silence is uncomfortable. Silence is soothing. Silence is empty. Too often we feel the need to reach for stimulation, and distract ourselves to sooth our angst. On the worst of days I catch myself checking my phone every few minutes, I talk just to avoid the nothingness, and I turn on the TV to feel accompanied. I do this because I know that when there is silence, I have to listen to myself and I don’t always like what I hear.
It’s easy to distract yourself and ignore what occurs within. When you distract yourself for too long, a fight begins to brew between doubt and confidence. The longer you remove yourself from this tension, the stronger doubt becomes. Doubt is resilient. When you ignore it, doubt strikes. It marches forward and gobbles up whatever is in its way. It drags a dark looming cloud overhead and washes away any trace of the enemy. It sweeps through the landscape with indiscriminate force.
When you finally take a moment to look within, you find that confidence has dwindled. But, slowly you begin to make sense of things. “Not everything is your fault. Don’t take things personally. Don’t overanalyze. Look at all the meaningful things you achieved.” The process of self-soothing, of putting things in perspective takes time and effort. And, it requires silence. For a few minutes at your desk, in your journal, or on the commute home, or simply sitting in your room, you experience silence and take time to think. As this happens, doubt fades and confidence grows.
Doubt and confidence need each other. Doubt keeps us humble and grounded, while confidence instills belief in ourselves and grows our ability. Doubt nourishes our moral compass and washes away arrogance, while confidence feeds us with energy and gives us the conviction to act. Doubt dominates, then confidence fights back: it’s an inevitable process, a force of nature. But without silence and a concerted effort to look within, we cannot find the right balance. And, without balance we risk falling past doubt and into diffidence, and past confidence into arrogance.
That day in Chicago I was quiet because I was afraid. I felt inferior and out of place. My silence was not for focus on my notes; it was a respite from something more difficult. The winds were swirling inside while I sat at that table, and when the group laughed, the rain unleashed. I withdrew into the quite comfort of my own head. But the quiet storm doesn’t last forever. It swept through me that night, but it came to an end. It led me to this blog, and it led me to perspective.
I don’t know if this is what the “quiet storm” saying means, and I still don’t know what that lady in Chicago meant by it. But, now it’s mine.
The quiet storm is unstoppable. You can’t prevent it and you can’t make it go away. Sometimes it lingers, sometimes it quickly passes through, but every storm starts the same way: with a menacing silence.
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