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The Sound of Silence

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Young woman enjoying the scenic view at Caux.

Those inspired by Christ, like myself, find strength in his life and teaching. All religious traditions hold to the example of their prophets. Mahatma Gandhi spoke of ‘the inner voice’ and the need to ‘make God your guru’. Buddhists advocate the practice of meditation and detachment. For Muslims, the very word Islam means submission to the will of God and peace within and between human beings. Jews and Christians find God in the ‘still, small voice’ within.

Striving for the ideal is not arrogance but humility in the face of eternal time and space. We need the grace of forgiveness, and to acknowledge that we are all, in one way or another, flawed. But we can also recognize that what we give out to others is what we receive back. Hate too easily begets hate; love begets love. As we run our personal virus checkers each day we become free from egotistical motives. Free to have creative care for others.

Thirdly, when downloading spiritual information, it helps to print it out, rather than leaving it unattended on the hard disk of our minds. Writing down our innermost thoughts acts as an aide mémoire, so that they cannot be conveniently ignored.

Cartoon 4 sitting up in bed, Sound of SilencePère Alphonse Gratry (1805-72) wrote: ‘How can I listen to God, you ask me. This is the answer: you write.’ An old Chinese proverb says that ‘the strongest memory is weaker than the palest ink’.

Finally, we can share the thoughts we receive with trusted family, friends, colleagues or spiritual mentors—and even those who we think are likely to disagree with us—before acting on them. In being transparent ourselves we create a basis of trust. Ideas that come to one person may be heightened by others. Equally, one person may bring a breakthrough inspiration to the whole group. In the end, taking action on an inspired thought is an act of faith.

All this, then, is much more than just a matter of private concern, without consequence for others or for the wider world.

The New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman writes, in his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, that one of the characteristics of globalization is ‘superempowered individuals’, who are enabled to enlist others around a cause through information technology. He cites the experience of Jody Williams who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign to outlaw land mines by gaining support through emails. Another example was the Jubilee 2000 campaign for international debt remission, which also depended on mobilizing public opinion. And members of the ATTAC movement, who campaign at world social forums for a more just globalization, say they aim to ‘change the world’.

Friedman says that there are six dimensions of globalization: financial and business, political, cultural, security/defence, technological and environmental. One could also add the religious and spiritual dimension, in an age when different faith traditions rub shoulders in the world’s major cities. Friedman emphasizes the need for ‘globalists’—people who look at the whole picture, the global scene. Frank Buchman also expressed his message in global terms—‘remaking the world’. In one sense, whenever someone decides to act differently, out of a new motivation, then the world has already become a different place. But Buchman also encouraged people to ‘think for continents’—to let the pain and glory of the world filter through one’s heart and mind. And he saw the need for ‘super-empowered individuals’ in the spiritual context. Such individuals, working together, contribute to integrity, justice, healing and reconciliation, and good governance in business and public life.

Imagine, Buchman said, a hundred million people listening daily to the still, small voice within. Or, today, we might imagine a billion people listening to that sound of silence. It would certainly create a calmer, more peaceful, more just world. Wherever we are, we can all make a difference—in our families, communities and places of work.

For many around the world, the daily time of silent reflection has become an anchor, and a springboard to action, over the years. It has become an indispensable tool of a lifetime. Taken seriously, it affects every area of life: family relationships, your job, your use of money and the world’s resources, your friendships and, maybe, choice of partner in life. It makes a world of difference.

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Initiatives of Change (IofC) is an informal, international network of people of all faiths and backgrounds working to change the world by first seeking change in their own lives. These moments of personal transformation often mark a new direction in a person’s life. Some of them have resulted in the various initiatives of change currently being undertaken by this global network. They include Action for Life, Agenda for Reconciliation, Caux Initiatives for Business, Caux Scolars Program, Creators of Peace, Farmers’ Dialogue, Hope in the Cities, Initiative for Land, Lives and Peace, Renewal Arts, Tools for Change, and Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy. All these have grown through networks of empowered individuals. IofC works on the principle that changes in people’s motives, attitudes and behaviour are not only possible but are the only sure basis on which wider lasting change in society can be brought about. This is the experience of millions of people, whether involved in IofC or not, who have decided to start the ‘change process’ in their own lives. IofC’s main international centres are in Caux, Switzerland, and Panchgani, India.;


Hardwired to Connect, YMCA, Dartmouth Medical School and
Institute of American Values, 2003
Weaving the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, 1999
The Power of Silence, Rosa Bellino, For A Change magazine, Aug/Sept 2002
Anam Cara—spiritual wisdom from the Celtic World, John O’Donahue, 1998
The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas Friedman, 1999
Frank Buchman: a life, Garth Lean, 1985
Hope for Today, Peter Marsh and Hugh Elliott, 1995

Michael Smith’s experience of listening to the ‘sound of silence’ drew him into publishing and journalism with the international programme of Initiatives of Change. He qualified in typography and print design at the London College of Printing in 1970. He served for three years in India, 1971-74, on the production of Rajmohan Gandhi’s newsweekly magazine Himmat, and has visited India 14 times, reporting stories of industrial development. In 1987 he became one of the founding editors of For A Change magazine, published by Initiatives of Change in London. He is now a freelance journalist working with Initiatives of Change. He is the author of Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy (2008), The Fullness of Life (2012) and Great Company (2015). He and his wife, Jan, live in Wimbledon and they have two children.