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The Sound of Silence

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“And in the naked light, I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never shared
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence”

— Paul Simon

 

There was a moment over cocktails recently when I asked, “Do you want to see me again?” The answer was so instantaneously affirmative and lilting that there was no doubt as to her intent. Or so I thought, but that is another story. We’ve all been there, when instead the answer was the briefest hesitation, or, as John Prine wrote, when “she waits just a second too long.” In that pause lies an abyss where hope and rising expectations go to die.

Silence is often the hardest thing for us to embrace. And yet, when it is a personal reflection publicly exhibited in real time, it is the most remarkable of things.

We aren’t very comfortable with these pauses. We race to fill the space. However, it is in the pauses where humanity touches the surface. Leading up to the silence, the brain is not distracted, thinking of its next question or answer as we normally do. Instead, it is, as the late Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh would say, when we are totally present in the moment. The silence exists and the answer is slow in coming precisely because it is the unvarnished truth, meeting oxygen for the very first time.

This week, on three of the podcasts we recorded, there were those remarkable pauses, with two people reflecting on a life’s work and one reflecting on the present as it lays the foundation for the future.

 

The Personal Price of the Big Life

On In House Warrior, the daily podcast I host for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal, I interviewed Stuart Stevens, considered the most successful Republican political operative of his generation, in a deeply moving and emotionally raw show on the transition of the great political party he loved, which has turned its principles into empty and instantly exchangeable marketing slogans. We are talking, of course, about the Grand Old Party.

In a highly partisan age, this is not a partisan story. It is instead the story of a broken heart. Of a man who served five GOP presidential campaigns, including both Bushes, Bob Dole, Mitt Romney, and countless gubernatorial and senatorial campaigns, and helped build the Republican Party into a highly successful juggernaut. But instead of basking in his glory as he nears the last chapter of his remarkable career, he is instead sounding more like Robert Oppenheimer—the father of the atomic bomb—when later in life he asked, “What hath man wrought?”

Wait for it. About three quarters of the way through the episode there is a deafening silence that speaks volumes. It is the moment someone looks back and wonders about the value of his life’s work. It is not an easy moment.

Stuart’s handiwork is all over the Republican party at the highest levels. He so strongly believed in its principles, in its embrace of the Founding Fathers’ vision. And now? It is a party he sees as rudderless, built entirely around the “Big Lie.”

Stuart was a founding partner of Strategic Partners & Media and stepped down from the company in April 2019. He is currently an advisor to the Lincoln Project and is the author of eight books, including his most recent, It Was All a Lie – How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump. The book is not just an indictment of the Republican Party, but also a candid and often lacerating mea culpa.

We didn’t use the Hebrew phrase “tikkun olam”—to repair the world—but this is the story of a once young man who set out on a life’s mission to help repair the world, loaded with hope and optimism and, upon reflection decades later, looks back and tries to muster either.

The silence you hear is heart breaking.

 

A Remarkable Life

There were two other great pauses on programs this week. In a show entitled Mediating a Better Future – The Remarkable Life of the Hon. Daniel Weinstein, my old friend and generous soul Primila Edward and I interviewed The Hon. Daniel Weinstein (Ret.). Primila is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; was formerly an in-house counsel and the principal consultant with Straits Consulting Group; and currently works as a Consultant Trainer at Epromasters.

Judge Weinstein is one of the preeminent mediators of complex civil disputes in the United States and is a founder of JAMS, the world’s largest private mediation provider. He is also internationally recognized as one of the premier mediators of complex, multi-party and high-stakes commercial and political disputes. He has settled some of the largest and most contentious financial sector, intellectual property and environmental cases of the past two decades and is the former Envoy of the United States to Bosnia, where he mediated a $14 billion transfer of funds to Muslims, Croats and Serbs.

He is the recipient of the 2014 International Advocate for Peace Award from the Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution, whose past honorees have included former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. We were in the presence of a sage.

At the end of the show, we asked him about his life’s work and there was a long, long pause. It was the moment a man in his 80s was looking back over a remarkable and Herculean career. We edited the pause down a little, but you can still feel it. “How terribly strange to be 70?” How even more strange to be 80.

 

How Gen Z is Channeling their Fear and Passion to Save America

On Real Washington—the show I cohost with Michael Zeldin, host of That Said with Michael Zeldin on CommPRO and former on-air CNN Legal Analyst—we interviewed John Della Volpe, Director of Polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics about his new book, Fight: How Gen Z is Channeling their Fear and Passion to Save America.

The Washington Post referred to John as one of the world’s leading authorities on global sentiment, opinion and influence, especially among young Americans. This is America’s most diverse and educated generation and most of what we think we know about it is wrong. Its members view global warming, the threats to democracy, opioids, January 6th and more as personal existential threats and are forced to deal with issues of life and death in a way young people haven’t had to since World War II. A third of this generation believes a U.S. civil war in their lifetimes is now a possibility.

When we asked John if he was optimistic about the future, there was the pause, but then it came. As much as Stuart is heartbroken, John is concerned but optimistic. And Daniel? He knows there is a path to resolve even the most intransigent disputes. Maybe, just maybe, we have a succession plan.

So here we have three shows, looking backward, looking presently and looking forward. It is not an age of what then-Federal Reserve Board Chairman, Alan Greenspan referred to during the go-go 1990s as “irrational exuberance,” but there is hope.

While it is not easy, the painful self-examination is something we all need to do far more of, rather than avoiding its clutches via the rapid-fire judgment of others.

Inshallah – if God wills. But for the foreseeable future, tie your camel.

“Silence is a time of reflection to bring peace and meaning to your life, and to those around you. This deafening quiescence will mean different things to different people but if they listen carefully, they will understand…”

— Virginia Alison

 

Enjoy the shows.

Richard Levick

 

Listen to It Was All a Lie

Listen to Mediating a Better Future

Listen to How Gen Z is Channeling Their Fear and Passion to Save America

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