Sanctity of Silence by Eshla

So many of us revel when it rains so we can enjoy the scent of the earth.  So many of us like to rest our soles on wet blades of grass.  So many of us enjoy the beauty of the morning fog.  So many of us like to shop from the earth, not from fluorescent- lit supermarkets.

We are not new-age hippies.  Nor are we Greenpeace volunteers.  We’re simply enjoying a life void of advertisements, marketing, and white noise.  Silence – in its many forms- is a religion.  And a growing one from what I gather.

This week, I was asked by a friend, “Are we saturated?”  And he wasn’t referring to torrential rains.  Yet, I wasn’t sure what to answer.  Personally, yes, I feel that we’re saturated in marketing.  (For others, that may not hold true.)

But markets thrive on marketing.  Sounds ridiculously obvious.  But in some form or another, marketing is essential to growth – be it on nifty little “smart” tablets or by word of mouth.  We must publicize ourselves, our work, our companies, our ideas, our “brand” to stir some interest.  We must do so with ingenuity, creativity, and vigor.  The better we market, the more growth we’re expected to see, the more customers that will trickle, the more inquiries that we will receive.  It’s a rather exponential exercise, if done correctly.

Yet, the question came up again, “Is it possible that we’ve marketed the heck out of everything –  even the so-called “good” deeds that we do in the world”?

As I’ve become more and more involved in development projects over the years, I’ve seen the same need to pronounce one’s self in places of social service.  It may be the certificate you receive, the medal that you’re bestowed, or the placard that’s placed on your behalf at a hospital ward, school, religious site, etc.

There is this need to make a mark – in a very literal sense.  For those who come later, they should know who was kind enough to bestow this school to the needy, who was generous enough to finance these surgeries…you get the idea.  It is a different arm of marketing – not to increase sales, but to build a “brand” of charity, generosity, and service.

As a writer who focuses on stories around social impact, I often find that when I speak with some young social entrepreneurs, I hear more about them and less about the work that they do.  There is a selling of the brand, as much as it is about the good work being done.

That’s why I was delighted to meet a friend who recently said – let’s do this project but I don’t want any proof that I was behind it.  It’s a rather old-fashioned expression of anonymity in a world of hyper-tweeting, facebooking, social media-ed charities.

He was a young man, as well, one who had recently seen success with a business venture.  He had means to spread that wealth.  He had a desire to do it for the rest of his life.  But he really didn’t want anyone to know.  He wanted to see results; he wanted transparency and assurance, just like any other donor.   But he wanted to be silent, literally invisible.

It was a refreshing voice to hear, a reminder for me of how I was raised- do what’s needed but don’t speak of it unless necessary.  To discuss social issues is another matter, and a vital one to propel change.

But, pins, placards, proofs of good citizenry are a nice gesture; yet, I’ve always wondered, “Why?”

For those in the for-profit world, it’s critical to make noise.  That’s how one builds an income.  (Even that I feel has hit new heights these days with the endless surveys, mobile advertising, emails, and in your face ads).

But when it comes to good citizenship, be it local or global, can we do it in silence?  Can we not avoid the ceremonial dinners, the patting on the back, the formalities?  Can we not use those funds to help more folks, support more causes?  Can we not raise more funds without the “wining and dining?”  Can we not leave the “rewards” programs to the cafes, shops, and movies?

Perhaps, I’m wrong.  But I’ve grown to revere those who can remain quiet in a very noisy world.

23 thoughts on “Sanctity of Silence by Eshla

  1. And yet, we come from a culture which will promptly ask, “Why do you downplay yourself”? Remaining silent about good citizenship isn’t considered a virtue, sadly. It is indeed heartening to know that there are far and few between who go against this accepted and often forced norm of good citizenry come with drumbeats. An inspiration, indeed!

  2. Both are necessary – making noise will help creating awareness about the cause …working silently towards a cause, is a purely personal choice. Its all about what your intention are when you associate your name to a it to get publicity,enhance your brand value,get tax benefits or simply because you genuinely feel for that cause.Both Shouters and Silent workers add value to a cause in their own way.

  3. Dear Sir

    I think there are two reasons why one must publicize and talk about the good work that they do…

    1. To inspire and mobilize other people. I don’t litter, but that is not enough to keep my streets clean. If I tell people to not litter – it doesn’t work very well. If I glorify the person who does not litter and belittle the one who does – littering stops.

    2. In my experience, doing social work is no cake walk either. There is the usual set of challenges and problems. Recognition and Power come in very handy. If I have done some good work, and I intend to do the next good thing too… standing on the air platform that I have created with my earlier good work, gives me a jolly good start.

  4. Good point. As fastest rotating top seems stand still the best work can be done in total silence.

    And it could even be done with one person each a few days apart. Here is an example but it should not be taken as self-trumpeting or promoting as I am not selling anything anywhere, just thought it will give a moment of happiness to some readers.

    On my daily evening walk I cross an old man sitting on his sewing machine in a corner of a shop sewing clothes with an unexplainable serene look on his face. He looks admiringly at me don’t know why and I return the same daily. Often I wish I will give something to him for sewing.

    Then a few days ago I gave him a few meters of cloth to sew two underwears for me. Perhaps I just wanted to get something sewed from him and perhaps he just wanted to sew something for me and universe conspired to give both the chance and thus to admire each other even in actuality.

    Yesterday he handed me two nicely sewen underwears and one beautiful hanky of the saved cloth (a rare thing from people of this profession). On asking the cost of sewing he just said “as you please.” I on the other hand said that no, since he has done the labor and he knows its real cost he should tell me and also added that only please don’t ask ess from me in any way rather I would not mind a little more than his rate.

    He hesitatingly asked for Rs 70, I handed him Rs 100 note and asked if he had Rs 30 to return at the same time wondering if he had asked less cost from me (I didn’t know as I had hardly ever gone to any sewing man myself before, my wife will do this for me or I will buy ready-made).

    Anyway, as he did not have the change I said I will search haphazardly thrown notes in my pocket and see if I can come up with Rs 70. I found 8 Rs 10 notes and gave all to him saying that he must have asked me less by Rs 10 so I will give him all these 10 Rs notes. He accepted, in the manner of a person receiving parsadam from a gurdawara or temple, by first joining and then spreading both his hands.

    Moral of the story: Not much good in the obvious but infinite good at the level two souls met and made each other happy. And where was the need of the words there for THAT work? And who could listen even if they were there?

    As I left, I thought of Shekhar Ji’s Qyuki Moment and wondered if it was not always there whenever a really conscious person met and touched base with an other from a certain level even during the course of ordinary, daily work. I often find as I often do.

    As for business I think in these days of recession the only really good business would be one which saves money for people, all else is pick-pocketing. Even making movies for shear entertainment or writing books not serving the above purpose should wait.

    A few days ago I was prompted to even write the following post when the above thought came to my mind. And for a good measure I even stopped all ads on my blog site, though that is not to say that they were earning any substantial money, just for inner self satisfaction.

  5. May your tribe increase,Eshla and of your good friend!


    Will opt for the latter any day!


  6. Shekharji, is there a link of your Intel talk? If so ,would you be kind enough to share it please ?Tried googling the day you tweeted about it and later as well but couldn’t locate the video on You tube. Found other videos of yours in conversation with Sathguru Jaggi Vasudev!!! Some of the answers by Sathguruji helped me so much.He’s wonderful and you are such a great listener.Loved that part :”Shekhar, you’re not asking the right questions”. Enjoyed your Q&A sessions so much.

    Did read the article of the Intel talk but I would really be grateful for the video link.

    Thanks in advance.


  7. Be Still.

    Post written by Leo Babauta.

    Be still.

    Just for a moment.

    Listen to the world around you. Feel your breath coming in and going out. Listen to your thoughts. See the details of your surroundings.

    Be at peace with being still.

    In this modern world, activity and movement are the default modes, if not with our bodies then at least with our minds, with our attention. We rush around all day, doing things, talking, emailing, sending and reading messages, clicking from browser tab to the next, one link to the next.

    We are always on, always connected, always thinking, always talking. There is no time for stillness — and sitting in front of a frenetic computer all day, and then in front of the hyperactive television, doesn’t count as stillness.

    This comes at a cost: we lose that time for contemplation, for observing and listening. We lose peace.
    And worse yet: all the rushing around is often counterproductive. I know, in our society action is all-important — inaction is seen as lazy and passive and unproductive. However, sometimes too much action is worse than no action at all. You can run around crazily, all sound and fury, but get nothing done. Or you can get a lot done — but nothing important. Or you can hurt things with your actions, make things worse than if you’d stayed still.

    And when we are forced to be still — because we’re in line for something, or waiting at a doctor’s appointment, or on a bus or train — we often get antsy, and need to find something to do. Some of us will have our mobile devices, others will have a notebook or folder with things to do or read, others will fidget. Being still isn’t something we’re used to.

    Take a moment to think about how you spend your days — at work, after work, getting ready for work, evenings and weekends. Are you constantly rushing around? Are you constantly reading and answering messages, checking on the news and the latest stream of information? Are you always trying to Get Lots of Things Done, ticking off tasks from your list like a machine, rushing through your schedule?
    Is this how you want to spend your life?

    If so, peace be with you. If not, take a moment to be still. Don’t think about what you have to do, or what you’ve done already. Just be in the moment.
    Then after a minute or two of doing that, contemplate your life, and how you’d like it to be. See your life with less movement, less doing, less rushing. See it with more stillness, more contemplation, more peace.

    Then be that vision.

    It’s pretty simple, actually: all you have to do is sit still for a little bit each day. Once you’ve gotten used to that, try doing less each day. Breathe when you feel yourself moving too fast. Slow down. Be present. Find happiness now, in this moment, instead of waiting for it.

    Savor the stillness. It’s a treasure, and it’s available to us, always.

    From the Tao Te Ching:
    It is not wise to dash about.
    Shortening the breath causes much stress.
    Use too much energy, and
    You will soon be exhausted.
    That is not the Natural Way.
    Whatever works against this Way
    Will not last long.



  8. “Perhaps, I’m wrong. But I’ve grown to revere those who can remain quiet in a very noisy world.” Perhaps you’re right. And We’ve, over time and tide, learnt to revere those who can truly remain quiet in this very noisy world just with one sole purpose to give as it gives joy to the giver and not to waste effort to differentiate between “branding” CSR-corporate social responsibility from white noise!

  9. It’s the very premise of ‘The Fountainhead’ is it not? Without the noise, the silence cannot be achieved.

  10. Hi Shekhar

    How stereotypical? Why should people in the development sector not ‘market’ themselves and their work? Why should transferable skills be the prerogative of the management world only?

    Why should ‘silence’ be expected and viewed as an attribute for people working in development projects or areas of good citizenship as you refer to it? Is Anna Hazare any less of a ‘good citizen’ for using various tools and mechanics to generate critical mass and a people’s movement? Did the Mahatma bring about revelation by ‘hiding away’ or remaining ‘silent’? No!

    The pins, ceremonial dinners, ‘noise’ etc are a means to an end. (I wonder if you are trying to say that they are increasingly becoming an end in themselves?) They are tools to create more awareness, generate and sustain critical mass, encourage sharing of best practice, network, question, debate etc.

    As a result of your film making craft and career, you have a relatively privileged standing, be it in terms of availability of resources, especially financial, or contacts that might make such resources available. As indicated in your post, the same has been for your friend.

    But a recent graduate from an academic programme in social work or development does not have that privilege. They have to work long and hard to establish their work and organization in the sector. They need funds to start programmes, to support the community, to carve the way forward. They do so by using every opportunity to talk about their work. To let the word spread far and wide within the network. To attend events and get-to-gathers to source out potential funders. To assess their growth. And to celebrate their successes. And that should not be seen as ‘noise’. To do so is to perpetuate stereotypes.

    Do you know that the one module that most social work institutions are hesitant to teach in their SW programme is anything to do with management, financial planning and management or marketing? Why? Because funds for ‘interesting’ development initiatives/projects are limited. Controlled by a few. And by large, available only through one’s personal and professional contacts. Everyone wants to milk the cash cow!

    I am a Physics graduate who wanted to take up a career whereby I could make a difference in the lives of people. I passed a competitive programme and enrolled into one of India’s most reputed Social Work institutions. I must confess that I was pretty naïve to think that this sector was full of altruistic people who did not indulge in organizational politics and chandelled their talents and energies into doing some good work. But I was so wrong. The sector is as corrupt as any other. So after about 1.5 years after graduation, I used the set of transferable skills gained over the course of my academics and made a lateral move into Education and then into Management.

    I’ve been on both sides of the ‘noise’. It really isn’t ‘noise’. It’s the survival of the fittest, not the privileged (who wish to remain anonymous)

    Best wishes (from a rain saturated Birmingham!)

  11. “Show me one and I will go and say a prayer to him”. Sir, with due respect, it seems you are purging your conscience.

  12. “Name me someone that’s not a parasite and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him” Zimmerman

  13. Just had a look at Qyuki site,Shekharji .Never knew about the co-founder!!! Great videos of you both.Listening to you takes the pressure off to always get it right the first time…

    Have decided to travel to Bangalore for a while to stay with my aunt .She lives near Whitefield.been to B’lore several times in the past and now it’s scaring the hell out of me coz I gave up on a lot of things esp travel.


  14. I would LOVE for that to happen! Thank you so much,Shekharji.I’m leaving on 13th Nov that’s Tuesday and will be arriving 14th morning. Yep, I should have said Bengaluru:) I hope Hyderabad remains just that- can’t imagine it being called by any other name now!

    I for one can’t believe that this is happening to me although I welcome it ! Some wishes being fulfilled at last:) Wow!

    When you talked about “denying yourself”- I went- Gosh that’s totally me and have been that way for so many years now.Well not any longer-taking baby steps again.


  15. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a little bit, but instead of that, this is fantastic blog. An excellent read. I will certainly be back.

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