In the Scheme of Things: The Gift of a Pause

I’m not sure when it started, but for me it was the early 1990s. I was living and working on the east coast and remember the day I saw it invade my everyday world; even telling my husband that night. Today it’s a ubiquitous style.

Back then, common etiquette meant pausing before speaking to insure the other person was finished. On that day I watched a hostile verbal-take-over as the person wanting the floor simply talked over the other person until he yielded. They weren’t debating a heated topic; he merely wanted to change the focus.

Like many cultural changes, verbal-take-overs arrived in dribs and drabs until we adjusted to them. In a few years, the no-pause speaking overlay style frequented everything from meetings and basic conversations to news channels and talk shows. I even perfected my own style which became a necessity in some workplaces. Time was short and verbal-take-overs signaled “move along,” albeit with rudeness.

Another no-pause style took root around the same time. I noticed it first on my regular commute as drivers made a no-pause choice more and more frequently at stop signs, crosswalks, and red lights. Now I see another no-pause emerging. This week at a museum exhibit, a young woman wanted to see what I was looking at but couldn’t wait the 20 seconds for me to finish reading the sign, so she nudged me to move-along. This is the third time in as many months that a stranger skipped the pause and moved to nudge.

We’re losing the pause – not just for speaking and driving and courtesies – but for thinking. Posts on social media, comments on websites, email responses, and TV interviews are mushrooming examples in this instant response world. We react before the facts are gathered, information is considered, or reflection has occurred. Instant judgments. Instant likes or dislikes. Instant decisions.

But faster doesn’t equate to better. Faster isn’t better at stop signs, understanding complex issues, or building trusting relationships. When we lose our pause, we lose perspective, reflection, and understanding. We may punish our kids before they have a chance to tell us something important, misjudge others, or make key decisions with partial information. Without the pause, we can react out of fear rather than knowledge, speak from anger instead of reasoned thinking, or join others’ bandwagons before understanding their intentions.

In music, a pause is as important as a note; it’s similar in sports, writing, and speaking. But when it comes to personal relationships it matters more. A pause allows time to reconnect a heart with what’s important; what matters in the bigger scheme of things. And so, I’ve come to realize one of the biggest gifts I can receive or give is to pause a bit before replying, judging, or deciding, and on really important issues, long enough to hear my soul’s voice.

In the scheme of things, not everything new is good or old is antiquated. I know the world is changing and I don’t want to go backwards to some mythical “good old days.” But I do know that life is a series of choices. And most of the time, operating without a pause shouldn’t be one of them.