29 December 2014

The Chemistry of Quietness

Chemistry is a topic I have often associated with loud noises, horrible smells and polluted environments.  I would probably have found it far more interesting and enjoyable as a child if it had been taught primarily in the context of refining and purification.

Teaching people about science would be so much easier if it could be based on the personalities and interests of learners rather than those of teachers or the providers of an imposed curriculum.

Science is just a cultural search for reality, like any other, though its main purpose, to me, is to create widely shared understandings about various aspects of the world.

Quietness and sound are often regarded as the scientific province of physics.  In a social science and philosophical sense, quietness and sound involve aesthetic, moral and political factors, as well as physical and psychological ones.

For me, a desire for quietness has the purpose of helping me to refine my thoughts, purify my emotions and intentions, and reflect more clearly and productively on my memories, tastes and values.

For health reasons, over the last twenty-five years, I have refused to work in:

  • air-conditioned buildings, 
  • open-plan offices, 
  • anywhere with a television or radio switched on, 
  • anywhere with a scented/chemical product likely to make me feel ill, or 
  • any room without good ventilation and the amount of warmth I need for comfort.  

It would be far too stressful and unproductive for me to work in such environments.  I have been fortunate in being able to make such a choice, even though it has certainly reduced my income considerably.  Many people have not been able to make such a decision and have experienced high levels of stress as a consequence.

I have also refused to work with people I consider to be:

  • aggressively ambitious
  • excessively talkative
  • irrationally impulsive
  • lacking empathy
  • motivated by greed
  • ignorantly opinionated
  • inadequately hygienic

Metaphorically, the chemistry of quietness is useful to consider in a wide range of settings.  In a fair society, the chemistry of a workplace, a neighbourhood and a household, should be refined for the comfort and benefit of all the persons involved.  The chemistry of quietness is particularly important for persons required to use their minds to solve various difficult problems.

In our lives, we often interact with people in their workplaces when we are seeking to have our needs met.  We may even experience life in their workplaces for much or some of our time as customers, clients, residents, patients or guests:

  • hospitals
  • clinics 
  • surgeries
  • homes for the frail aged
  • homes for other people with disabilities
  • schools and colleges
  • universities
  • shops
  • hotels
  • restaurants
  • offices
  • government departments
  • banks
  • public transport
  • museums and galleries
  • libraries and archives
  • places of worship

We are much more likely to solve difficult problems when we understand the affinity, and lack of it, we have for various people in various settings.   Some settings are more unnatural and/or unpleasant and/or unhealthy than others.  I know why I enjoy working from home.

It seems I am not the only one who prefers to experience a home-like space to enhance creativity and productivity.  Even when away from home, it should be possible.

Here are a few quite recent Australian media reports about open-plan offices:

Stress and productivity in open-plan offices

Stress and health in open-plan offices

Stress and creativity in open-plan offices

Stress and good manners in open-plan offices

Stress and happiness in open-plan offices

Stress and science in open-plan offices

I have an open-plan living room in which I try to write, yet I cannot write at all when anyone else is here, or even when their activities are annoying me from outside the window.  There is no other space in the house suitable for writing.  I would probably need a job in an open-plan office to pay for an additional space for writing at home, which would mean I would not have the time, quietness - or health - to write at all.

An update on this item.
Thursday 8 January 2015.

I have just come across a more recent article about open-plan offices and their cubicles:

The Economist on 3 January 2015

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