Today, smart high school students remind me about
quiet. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
Our library runs a workshop
for inner-city honor students. They come here to
learn about library research. First they fill out a
questionaire. What'll you study in college? What do
you like least about libraries? What do you like
One set of answers was startling. What do you
suppose these students liked best about libraries?
Of course many gave the obvious answer. Libraries
are places to get information. They house books,
encyclopedias, and friendly information-givers.
But two-thirds of the students said something else
entirely. Two-thirds said they liked libraries
because they're a quiet place -- a peace-filled
Smart students from a tough school! Their lives are
not filled with quiet. These students want to study
science, engineering, medicine, and law. They know
they'll need a mental oasis. The library is their
metaphor for that need. They remind me of something
that Jean Paul Sartre said:
Let us not look for the door, and the way out,
anywhere but in the wall against which we are
living. Instead, let us seek the respite where it
is -- in the very thick of the battle.
Those students reflect a tension that
stretches any creative person. Pain and trouble work
like grains of sand in an oyster. Without
disturbance, we don't grow. But neither do we grow,
or create, without internal quiet. The trick is to
come to that peace in the middle of the marketplace.
A wonderful poem by Yeats
catches the idea.
My fiftieth year had come and gone.
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body for a moment blazed,
And twenty minutes, more or less,
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed, and could bless.
Still, now and then, we have to go to a real quiet
place. Endless distraction kills something inside
us. On rare occasions we meet our quiet place, our
deep creative content, with another person. Maybe
you find your quiet place in physical exercise.
But find it you must. Find it or die inside! You'll
never know how to find it in the middle of the
whirlwind, if you haven't first learned to find it
in a quiet room.
People who spend their entire life responding to
the external world die inside. That's what these
smart students sensed at some very deep level. The
library was their perfect metaphor for a place
apart. And they knew they'd have to find such a
place on the way to forming themselves.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds