Questions from Today’s Quiet Moments

For most of us, nine-tenths (or so) of the time our minds are occupied with the affairs of the moment. It may be about the current project or issue at work, the current piece of work we are currently doing, whether it is personal or occupational, or maybe even the distracted sort of thinking that happens when we are trying to do the above while dealing simultaneously with an intensely important personal issue. You know—working through a personal issue while trying to keep everything else more-or-less together. The mind is in pursuit of some goal and everything else, for the moment, becomes just secondary.

But then there are the other moments. Perhaps they are the increasingly rare quiet times when we are able to shut out the surrounding unwanted noise and just be in the moment, observing what is before us and more importantly not letting our experiential lenses be clouded by those other urgent issues fighting for our attention. Perhaps they are the ones when something so momentous happens that we have no choice but to shut out everything else and just focus on the one thing before us.

Perhaps, though, they are none of the above. Fog like, sometimes those times just creep in on Sandberg’s aptly described “little cats’ feet.” Like that waiting animal, they just sit there, for a time, caring little if they are noticed, but ready to respond if you are willing to make the effort required to move them from the periphery to the conscious. The prize for the revelation is not necessarily large—just a tiny portion of insight, or maybe a question that bears further consideration. Still, it’s something that one can consider to be of real value in a world so filled with generally meaningless noise.

This was the trigger for today.

Youngest child is in the middle of dance recital week and, last evening at rehearsal, she’d experienced something of a wardrobe malfunction—a broken heel on one of the boots used in a hip-hop number. Rather than get them repaired, since they were worn out anyway, my wife and I had decided to meet lunch time and get her another pair.

We found them easily enough. Other half has something of a knack for that. What’s more she managed to get them at 30% off. It’s her superpower. As we were pressed for time we decided to grab something quick at a nearby fast food joint. Hey—food police—I had a salad. Well, um, not exactly but the item I had DID have lettuce. That counts, right? While there, it was impossible not to notice the group of schoolchildren at a nearby table. Grade nine or ten, I’d guess. Clad in designer clothes, waving expensive mobile phones about and talking in that halting low-pitched twang that so many young people consider cool, they were poster children for what is often seen as typical ‘popular’ school kids. Loud chatter, the kind intended to draw attention from those nearby, was punctuated by frequent flits to and from nearby tables and to the soda fountain. I just tuned it out and concentrated on spending a few minutes with my wife.

Silence. It’s generally relative, of course. In our technology-obsessed world there are so few quiet places left. Even in my sparsely populated corner of the planet there are hardly any places that are left truly untouched by the sounds of technology. That’s partly due to the fact that the airspace above my home is a mustering area for eastbound trans-Atlantic flights. I digress as usual. Fortunately, though, our hearing works on a logarithmic, not linear, scale so we can respond to huge variances in sound level with ease. When it drops significantly we relax just as if a huge load has been lifted. That’s what it was like. One minute: chaos; minutes later: not so bad at all. I looked up and then around. Of course, ‘they’ were gone, and with their exit a relative peace had settled over the place. The four other school-aged people seated at the next table to me were conversing in low tones, as was everyone else. No mobiles out either. The four were clearly enjoying one another’s company; no need for theatrics or distractions.

Then I spied it—the place where the loud four had been seated. Disgraceful. On the way out I discretely snapped a picture with the mobile. Back at the car I had to take another look. Still disgraceful.

In fairness to the restaurant chain, this is not a reflection on it, just a few of its patrons. The fact is that the place in question is always, in my experience, spotless, despite the efforts of some of its customers.

In fairness to the restaurant chain, this is not a reflection on it, just a few of its patrons. The fact is that the place in question is always, in my experience, spotless, despite the efforts of some of its customers.

I told a friend. “Perhaps they didn’t know better?” she offered. But they were not that young—probably 15 or 16, certainly old enough to have been exposed to some examples of basic social norms associated with eating at joints like this one.

Through the afternoon the thoughts of this minor careless act played on my mind. I returned to my office at the university. At one point I want down the hall to confer with a colleague. It was just a short visit as she was busily grading final papers from her two grad classes. When I arrived at her office she was just in the process of sending an email. I quietly waited for her to finish and when she did, she turned around and sat at the table, shaking her head. “That was the third reply to a student from one of my two undergrad classes who is still insisting that I reread her paper because she feels that she deserved more than a B. What do you think?” I read the paper—it was only a 5 pager. My colleague was, in my estimation, generous. Shallow, hastily written and almost completely lacking in references it was clearly something done ‘off the cuff.’ Barely worth a passing grade, it was by no means deserving of anything like an A. “She figures she can brow-beat me into giving her her own way.” All I could do was shake my head too.

Perhaps, by then I was in something of a hyper-vigilant mode. Thinking back I must report that the vast majority of the many people I interacted with that day, thus far, had been decent; reasonable. Now, though, I’d experienced two occasions where that was not the case. Yes, perhaps it was confirmation bias—the unskilled thought process that leads one to only recognize events and examples that support the particular thought or conclusion they are currently having. Who knows?

Suppertime. Just a brief rest-stop. Piles of housework left to do and, besides, youngest daughter did have the first of three dance recitals ahead. No time for anything fancy and, with the temperature at a balmy—for my home this time of the year anyway—nine degrees it made sense to light up the barby and burn up a few burgers and veggies.

No buns.

With the burners set to low off I went to the corner store for them. Aside from the school-aged clerk who was busily engrossed in texting (or whatever) on her mobile the place was empty. I passed the clerk, got the buns and placed them on the counter. On a whim I turned around went back to the fridge and got a bottle of that carbonated, artificially-flavoured sugar water that probably takes years off your life. Go big or go home. If you’re going to eat something bad you might as well be good at it. I plunked it on the counter too.

And waited.

The clerk continued texting.

“How’s it going?” I said gently, as a polite way of really saying, “Will you please put down that mobile and do your job so I can get home! I only have about 45 minutes to prepare supper and get on the go again so, no, I can’t really wait until you are good and ready. You are being paid to do this, after all.”

“&%$!&$#!” said the clerk as she jumped back to awareness. I’d certainly startled her.

She was clearly annoyed with me and curtly mumbled something about sneaking up on her.

I decided to stop time. It’s my superpower.

The number was not made up! ( a very cool site)

The number was not made up! Source– ( a very cool site)

So, with time frozen, I proceeded to tell her that we, the remaining 7,112,257,922 people currently existing on this planet were not put there for her convenience. I want on to point out that I had not been sneaking around but had dropped two packs of buns and one bottle of junk on the counter, right under her nose, after letting the ‘fridge door slam. I then pointed out that she was in the employ of the store and, as such was expected to keep a close eye on the comings and goings of all visitors. Some might be inclined not to pay for items and some, heaven helps us all, might need help. I was just getting to pointing out that “&%$!&$#!” was an inappropriate was to greet customers when I noticed that she, too, must be able to stop time. A cartoon thought bubble was appearing above her head and a word, currently faint, was slowly materializing as I continued. With my vocals set to automatic I watched as the word “Arsehole” became clearer and clearer.

The jig was up; she was on to me. I restarted time.

“Debit.” I said and inserted the card into the machine. There followed the most painful 2.5 seconds as I waited for the transaction to complete. “No bag,” I said and left the store. No odds, she was already buried in her mobile anyway.

So now, with the supper dishes cleaned and put away, the place tidied up somewhat and youngest daughter at dance recital, once again, quiet has returned and, with it, a few moments to reflect on the questions of the day. How is it that so many can be that badly wrapped up in their own noisy little bubbles that they become oblivious to those around them? How is it that we, the so-called elders in our society, have seemingly cultivated so many that are incapable of seeing any viewpoint but their own?

And the biggest question of all; the one that matters most to me right now: Those other four young people who, unlike their counterparts, were obviously present for one another. Did they clean up their table before leaving?

You know how it is with questions: sometimes it’s the asking that counts; it’s not always important to get the answer. This time, though, I do hope, so very much, that the answer to the last one is ‘yes.’


About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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29 Responses to Questions from Today’s Quiet Moments

  1. I like your superpower! I find as I get older, it gets harder for me to ignore rude behavior, too. If I was sure I wouldn’t get arrested for destruction of private property, I would grab some of those distracting devices and stomp them underfoot. Hopefully, we aren’t yet doomed…maybe those four youths show there is hope!

    • I feel like confronting the behavior but generally don’t. If it involves younger folk it’s really the parents/guardians we should be talking to and…what’s the point? If it involves older people the most likely outcome is a spew of abusive language or worse. So, in the end the best thing to do is pick the battles that count and make sure there’s a shield on your tongue as you bite down hard on it.

  2. OK … now you’ve done it … you’ve gone and pushed THE button … you know … that one. Try lecturing to a group of undergraduates who have been told that texting during class is NOT allowed. Don’t they think I know what they’re doing … their hands just below the seat in front of them … their attentions directed downward? Do they think I’m senseless? My usual habit is to stop the lecture attract the attention of the offending student and ask, rhetorically, ‘You aren’t texting in class are you … because we all know that texting isn’t allowed in class!’ The student usually answers, ‘No, I’m texting,’ whereupon the rest in attendance chuckles. Argh. Your post hit so many small nerves I think may have to take a Tylenol! Thanks! D PS: I do not think that this is a sign of old age (in the chronological sense)… it’s simply a reflection of the fact that social norms and standards have changed in the last decade or so … and not for the better in my view.

    • A little while ago I dropped of an item to a colleague who was about to start her calculus class. It was in a lecture theatre and was a large-ish class; probably 100 or so students. She started just as I dropped off the item and I stayed in the back for a few minutes just…because. The topic was standard: introduction to Integration by Parts and the opening lesson was an expository of the theory along with some opening examples of the method. It was well prepared, neat and logical. But–the students were not paying attention. As I was seated at tghe back I could observe what was happening. Only a few were using their mobiles. Many, though, had laptops open. Now, recall this was calculus and despite all of the advances that have been made down through the years, computers are still not great at note taking in Math. Sure, microsoft’s new handwriting tablet interface is not too bad but it’s not good enough. Other things Latex and MathType for example are just too slow. The best thing for students to do, if they want notes is to take them by hand. So why the laptops? eBay. Yes, ebay. Not facebook, not twitter. No, those students were shopping online while in calculus class. Look, while I am comfortable with a world that does not always do what I want it to do I find it increasingly silly to do things just to make it look good. Clearly something is badly wrong here. Either (a) that lecture method is no longer useful for todays students or (b) those students should not waste their time signing up for the class. Or a combination of the two, of course. I’ve been around long enough to know that (a) students do not learn math and physics effectively from books alone so that’s not the answer (b) videos are, for the most part, ineffective because people will not take the time to engage with them actively. Most won’t even run them. I also know (c) learning is somewhat individual but always active. That is it requires conscious work on behalf of students. If they are not making the effort in lectures, cannot read from books and refuse to watch videos then what’s left for those students?

    • elkement says:

      I agree – I think it reflects a change in social norms as such.
      In defense of young people I could throw in some stories from anecdotal evidence – I have experienced these changing norms as age-agnostic, but rather industry-sector specific. In the IT industry I worked with many colleagues – older and younger ones – who practiced excessive multi-tasking with laptops, smartphone etc. while technically ‘in a meeting’ or ‘in a training’.
      You should never underestimate the peer pressure in such settings – for example people nowadays expect that you are ‘at least’ available via all kinds of online tools even if they know you are ‘in a meeting’ – as everybody is expected to multitask in ‘meetings’

      • elkement says:

        (Technical comment: My comment is awaiting moderation – so again I am tagged as unsafe for the second time today ;-))

        • I wonder what could have caused it. In my case I think my issue was caused by posting a short link instead of the real one. Content management systems generally don’t like that.

      • You’re right, of course. Sometimes I take things a bit out there in favour of a good story 🙂 my experience as an educator has been that the students tend to be much the same as the adults. So… While we’re at it I should go on to agree that the same behaviour in adults is even more exasperating! I hate it when someone initiates a meeting with me and then interrupts it because they “have to get this” when their mobile rings. Frankly I consider that disrespectful.

  3. Oops … I meant the student replies, ‘No, I’m not texting.’ Sorry.

  4. Jane Fritz says:

    I hate to think that this behaviour, especially when young people are actually hired to do a job, is the new accepted social norm – God, I hope not – but it is sad (or frustrating, irritating, or maddening depending on your mood at the time). I don’t think the older crowd (me) is going to change it, but you’d think employers would want to work on it. Maybe we need to point this behaviour out to employers more often.

    • But to the young people–say just about anyone under thirty–that is now the norm and we are the doddery old farts who will not get into the future. LORD–we are so rude interrupting their online engagement insisting they should do their other work or pick up after themselves, or heaven forbid, drive the car with both eyes on the road ahead and not on the LCD screen in their lap.While I have no doubt that the young people will often engage effectively in this new mobile world they live in I think it should also be noticed that this virtual world is not a replacement for the physical one, just an augmentation. Garbage still has to be picked up, sorted and dealt with, houses have to be cleaned up, on and on…

  5. jennypellett says:

    I can just picture the exchange (or lack of it) in that convenience store. Sadly it happens more and more and while I am hauling myself into the technological age and see huge benefits and find enjoyment in being able to communicate easily with folk all over the world, it’s a worry that our young people have not been taught, as our generation have, the art of true communication. Brevity is all; texting is wiping out language as we know it and it’s being replaced with self-obsessed drivel accessed in 140 characters. Our recent school holiday rendered our parks and playing fields empty while our kids remained indoors communicating with each other via a screen. I yearn nostalgically for the old “jumpers-for-goal-posts” games where kids communicated face to face, out after breakfast, back before supper days, worn out with all that fresh air…
    I’m just the dinosaur in the room.

  6. I am probably a bit older than you are, I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s where we had a practical education – reading, writing, understanding what is written, old fashion math and there were RULES!!!. If not obeyed, there was a nifty flat paddle that worked wonders. Too much emphasis on self esteem, not bruising their little egos, no winning or losing, everyone wins – a but of major balderdash. Parents aren’t teaching their children right from wrong, manners, or taking the time to discipline their kids. Maybe all the Boomers wanted to do everything opposite their parents – look how that is turning out. And of course, I am an expert in child raising, I have no kids. I look at it in terms of what my parents would have allowed or not allowed – they also made us feel loved and wanted.

    I agree with Jenny and Pairodox Farms – I couldn’t have said it better myself. However, I have also seen kids like the quiet four, so there are some around – I suspect the thoughtless, self absorbed ones are getting the most attention instead of the quiet four.

  7. johnlmalone says:

    My mind latched onto your ruminations about the quiet places of the world. It is important they be there and we locate them. Now I live alone it is easy to find quiet and peace at home. I also have become adept at finding quiet places in my city whenever I venture out in it. I guess as a writer, quietness and solitude are prerequisites. But I like noise and company too — not just that often 🙂

  8. Where to start? At (almost) the very beginning I suppose.

    Are you saying that people should dump their rubbish and trays like a university cafeteria? You can tell I don’t go to fast food joints!

    I was once browbeaten into awarding a member of staff a high performance grade. I didn’t think she merited it, but her reasoning was that she deserved it because she managed to do an impossible job successfully. (It wasn’t impossible, it was just sending out press releases to a large distribution list). My boss backed her up.

    I later went on a course, where, bearing all this in mind, I was generous with gradings and was told that I was over-marking. Such is life.

    Most of my university essays were six pages as I recall – by hand of course. I never challenged the grading though.

    Customer service here in Gib is pretty good in shops, but eating out varies. It’s cultural here and in Spain to always say hello to the shop assistants when you walk in, don’t know if you do that where you live? So there is usually a polite ‘buenos’ to whoever is there, even if you are just mindlessly looking and don’t buy anything. Didn’t do that in the UK, so I like that.

    I tend to look at my mobile when I am waiting for a bus. Otherwise ….

    I used to get really annoyed with my secretaries who would spend half the morning on the ‘phone to their mothers! They lived at home anyway, and as soon as they got to work they rang them to speak to them. I’m standing there to discuss a piece of work that I want to explain and they are gabbing away about nothing in particular, and I have to wait for them to finish their personal ‘phone call 😦 to someone they spoke to an hour ago?

    Like everyone. Some good young people, some not so good.

    You had a fun day didn’t you?

    • In the end, though, the day wasn’t really so bad. The three somewhat common threads just sort of lined up as what I had to do at work that day was fairly routine so the poor old mind was wandering. It was the ‘incident’ at the corner store that gelled the idea. After posting that blog post I had time for a nice walk in the evening air; almost a full moon (we had a beautiful full moon last night) and no wind–my idea of relaxation.

      • I figured it wasn’t. A bit like some of my posts – some things just come together, but it isn’t the total.

        • It’s been pretty busy this week so far. Daughter’s dance recitals are finally over. She loves to dance…unconfined joy is what I see. Son #3’s spring prom is this week too. As a teacher I don’t set much value in proms–mostly meaningless showing-off of wealth we just plain do not have and all before finals are written. Come on! It turns into a week-long absence from studies at a time when the kids should be buckling down. Now, as a father, well I suppose it’s nice to see what they look like all cleaned up. I don’t mind admitting to pride when I observed that while he was doing his ‘bit’ in the part held last night that he showed a nice quiet dignity at a time when the rest of the group was either self-consciously giggling or just plain acting cool. I’m biased, of course.

          • You do know I’m not a parent and I just have no conception of any of that? Anyway, far too much of an American influence there I say. No proms in Brit. Apart from the last night.

            • You are dead on though–it is the American influence. My understanding is that Prom is short for Promenade. So I guess that ‘walk’ means ‘stepping out.’ My over-riding thought is ‘finish your studies first.’ We’ll celebrate when there’s a diploma in your hand. :>)

              • All I had in my mind was passing exams and getting the results. Once the exams were taken – who cares? Wait for the results with crossed fingers – and move on for more exams. It is not a social event – but difference of cultures. I went to one graduation (first degree) reluctantly, mainly to suit parents and my pals were going, and the second one – a walk away – I didn’t bother with. Piece of paper please. Thank you. That’s all I want.

              • That leads nicely to a very ripe topic–the issue of expectations and of people over- and under- rewarding both themselves and others. My experience was almost exactly the same as yours–almost. The spring prom and the undergrad degrees (I did a conjoint B.Sc. and B.Ed. for undergrad; a five-year program that left you with two degrees and certified as a teacher). I thought nothing at all about either graduation simply because it was a minimum expectation, not something I really considered as worth celebrating. This sounds a bit coarse but, frankly, I felt that instead of celebrating I would have deserved a kick in the arse if I hadn’t gotten that far. Oh, and I did not much like classes–for the most part; there were exceptions–as I don’t learn that way. Now here’s the difference. After my first summer ‘off’ since grade nine–teachers get 10 weeks off in the summer–I decided I never wanted to do that again and, so I applied to grad school for the following year. I did the masters degree over six years. The program required ten grad courses plus a thesis. I did the courses, two at a time, during the summers ‘off’ and the thesis in the last year and a half. I very much enjoyed that process as the type of learning–mostly self directed–suited me well. I felt very good about the whole thing in that I knew it was a transformative process and so, found that graduating meant something. I did attend that one–just the convocation, mind you, no fancy celebrating afterwards–and found it worthwhile. So, I think at least in my case the graduation was a decent enough marking of a milestone that was personally significant. Perhaps that’s the point of demarcation–it’s not for show; it’s a marking of something personally meaningful; something I had work hard for and found worthwhile.

              • I’ll keep it short (!) I did like classes and directed learning in my youth. My masters was distance learning (remember my comments about your education posts?), which at the time suited me. I went to work during the day, and I studied at nights and weekends. I was possibly a little hyper at the time.

                But work paid for it. I got the MBA, and I was quite pleased with that as I had a high pressure job at the time. I’d done the one degree ceremony though. I just had a smile on my face to get the second. Whatever suits all of us.

  9. TamrahJo says:

    I don’t get the rudeness levels – I see them in youngsters and adults and senior citizens as well – -But I do believe the reason it bothers us so much is because deep down, we don’t expect it to occur and in reality, there are fewer of them, than the considerate folk – hence, the shock of it all when it happens…

    I cling to that little self-created story, even in face of evidence to the contrary, simply because I want it to be true, much like you’re hoping for the “yes” 😀

    • My favourite Far Side comic of all time has the Creator busily…creating. Once finished he shakes a small saltshaker labelled “Jerks” over the Earth thinking, “Just to keep it interesting!” Brilliant!

      • TamrahJo says:

        LOL ! Every year, while I could, I purchased the Far Side daily calendar for my dad – – one of our favorites was the one with the Dinosaurs, all smoking
        “The real reason dinosaurs went extinct”
        (We were both smokers at the time…)

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