Shut up and listen
For eight long years, I was the most prolific event organizer you could ever meet.
I co-founded a geopolitics association which curated and created a variety of conferences, I was a TEDx event organizer and speaker scout, and I attended every world summit imaginable. I’ve also always been addicted to reading books, listening to audiobooks, TED talks, podcasts — you name it — while waiting, traveling, cleaning, cooking, walking, or playing sports. If there was a platform or source of information that could momentarily silence the millions of questions I had in my mind, you can bet I was listening to it.
A few years ago, a stranger whose face is now a blurry memory, turned my life around and put an end to all of this.
In 2016, I carried out an anti-Brexit-Euro-trip and hitchhiked 5600km across Europe in just 15 days. (Yes, I’ll be writing an article about this in the near future too). During these travels, I had the opportunity to spend several hours of the day with complete strangers from various ethnic and social backgrounds, whose opinions, I realized, I would never have heard, should I have limited my worldviews to the confines of my self-curated selection of books, podcasts, and articles. When hitchhiking, you enter into an unspoken contractual agreement in which you’re somewhat obliged to listen to the stranger driving you — for hours on end — whether you like it or not. Once I got an angry Hungarian driver who kept muttering something about the migrants to whom Europe gives refuge and how they compete with him by working jobs at lower wages. Another time I got a truck driver who transported cartons of milk over the course of several days from Germany to southern Italy, who consequently made me think twice about buying packaged milk. Another time I got an obnoxious businessman who left his family for his mistress because his wife never acknowledged him the way he felt he deserved. All in all, you get quite a variety of people.
One day, my convictions, my old identity and I got into a rather old and rugged car which belonged to a small, humble man whose voice and face I can no longer recall. He asked me what my role in society was and I proudly began presenting my polished repertoire of achievements and unique work experiences, along with the lengthy list of events I was organizing and the very important people I was organizing them with. The man was not impressed. In fact, he answered very simply:
“Human beings just keep talking don’t they, even though it’s more evident than ever that no one knows the answers to anything. If you ask me, it’s high time we all stopped talking and started listening. More importantly, I think it’s time we all started listening to silence, together.”
This statement shocked me.
On one hand I immediately thought about all of the comically inconclusive world summits, all of the qualified, or even worse, unqualified people with a mic in their hand producing noise. All the impulsive, compulsive and nonsensical social media posts expressing useless opinions about useless solutions to apparently pressing problems. All the lofty article titles explaining how feeding algae to cows could make them fart less and reduce CO2 emissions. All the qualified experts/scientists/life coaches with their thoughts on how to save the planet from humanity/animals from extinction / you from your chronic existential crisis. The countless articles written about how “Smart-working Is The Future”. Obviously it is, even the spider living in the corner of my room could tell you that sparing yourself the agony of a 1 hour and thirty-minute daily commute, an overpriced salad at the cafeteria for lunch, and listening to your clinically depressed colleagues every day would be a good idea.
On the other hand, I thought about all the people in the west who waste their lives in a hamster wheel and hate every second of it. I thought about the shameful amounts of food we waste every year, and about starving children. I thought about how the economic inequality gap keeps growing — proportionally, it seems, to the amount of economics students who enroll in university and pursue 8 years of studies only to come out on the other end with an economics degree and an educated opinion on how neoliberalism is going to save us all from damnation. I thought about all the efforts made to protect borders from millions of desperate people fleeing the wars and hunger that the very states defending the borders have caused. I thought about the $ 2 trillion spent globally on defense in 2020. And I thought about the planet’s resources being used at lightning speed for the sake of everyone’s personal prosperity, and how our collective idea of personal prosperity is sitting on a couch with USB — warmed socks we bought on amazon while we consume half-baked content on tiktok, and low-quality high sodium snacks packaged in three layers of plastic.
It’s so damn clear that we are totally lost and that none of us possess the answers, and perhaps not even the questions. Since that very moment, I have given up organizing conferences and stopped causing any more noise.
And so it is with this that I’d like to invite you to do what a humble, wise man with a blurry face in an old rugged car once told me:
For once in your life, shut up and fucking listen.