Why Silence Rocks

Justin Zorn

JUSTIN ZORN STOPPED WORKING as a policymaker in Congress and took a pause. What happened in the election of 2016 made him wonder, What was he going to do going forward? All that sound and all that fury flying around, did it mean anything?

He moved to Santa Fe with his young family and an idea for a book. Turns out, he loves it here. Maybe because the place is lit with something very different than what filters through the clouds in D.C. The book? Golden explores silence and how to find it.

I think he found it.

Why did you think writing this book was important?

I had been working for many years on how democratic societies can think about the long-range future. I had done some of that work in academia as a Fulbright Scholar. And then I worked in the US Congress as legislative director, writing bills and managing communications.

In that role, you’re also meeting with a member of Congress’s constituents and interest groups and thinking about, What bills do we want to put forward this year? How do we want to message them? How do we want to get the message across to people back home in the district? How do we want to get our messages across to people in DC? What laws do we think we could pass? Are there any amendments to bills? Basically translating a member of Congress’s vision and commitments into ideas for laws to pass.

But after the 2016 election, I was just at a loss for what to do. I had a million ideas about policy and politics and social action. I felt disoriented because working in Congress was like, you’d put forward a good idea and maybe get some traction on it. A bill would pass, say, the Affordable Care Act. And then there’d be this huge reaction to it from, say, the Tea Party. And then there would be this whole reversal….

So I started thinking, What is the underlying all of the paranoia, all the anxiety, all the difficulty going on here? Why can’t we have clear conversations and reach agreement with one another?

I realized that the problem underlying so much of what was going on was that no one had the ability to focus. No one had the ability to calm their nervous systems enough to really listen.

So I thought, What could we work on that would be a pure positive in this world? How could we do a book addressing this issue? And we decided to move to Santa Fe from D.C. because I felt like it wasn’t possible to do clear thinking or good writing in D.C. In D.C., there’s a feeling of despondence about the condition of the world. I felt like the answers would need to come through profound thinking, real creative solutions, and that that just wasn’t possible to generate in D.C.

Why Santa Fe?

The thing about Santa Fe is that even though in many ways it’s a small town in many ways, it feels like the center of where politics and spirituality meet. This is a place that draws people who are interested in not only spirituality and the natural world but also social action and engagement.

And it was also just a genuine feeling of being enchanted with the quality of the light here, with the landscape, with the connection to the ancient world. We always thought we would move from D.C. to the Pacific Northwest, but we fell in love with it here. And we had a kind of a built-in community right when we moved here, so we just knew it was the place to be.

So the election happened, and you decided to write this book.

Yes, I realized that public policy wasn’t an effective set of tools that would get us out of this mess. It was something deeper. Something in human psychology, something in the zeitgeist. It was noise.

About that time, I had an opportunity to do some writing for the Harvard Business Review. I gave them five article ideas. Most of them were standard Harvard Business Review–type articles. But the fifth one was a wild card about the power of silence to generate creative ideas. And the editor decided she wanted that one. So we wrote it and it really resonated with people; it went viral – it was one of the most shared on their website. We took that as a cue that there was a real appetite to learn more about this.



Photo SFM