Saturday, January 21, 2017

Seeking Silence

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

This year our nation, while it was busy fracturing itself along alarming political lines and redefining what is acceptable behavior for a president, celebrated a special centennial: the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. 

In 2009, national parks deservedly got the Ken Burns treatment with the PBS documentary, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”.  It is worth a view or, if you caught it the first time through, a re-visit, particularly considering the national parks are one of the scant few politically transcendent issues left and we could use a little togetherness. 

John Muir, Sierra Club founder, early advocate of the outdoor world and major contributor to the national parks and NPS, was a prominent personality in Burns’ documentary.  He was, in many respects, the perfect person at the perfect time (the industrial revolution) to remind us of whence we came – nature - and force an otherwise frivolous and insatiable species to preserve some of nature’s greatest jewels for future generations.

Muir had a psychological need for long escapes into the wilderness and the peace, solitude and beauty of an undisturbed landscape.  Nature sustained him in an increasingly developed world; it offered a retreat from the many trifling aspects of daily life to a place where a clear mind and complete focus was possible. 

This quote from Muir’s book “The Mountains of California” captures the healing powers of nature and the author’s addiction to the wild: “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” 
Muir would likely be miserable if he lived in today’s hyper-connected, overanalyzed and overstimulated world.  Escaping takes more than a hike into the woods now, it requires a conscious disconnection from the ever-present and ever-accessible grid. 

You can see the inner John Muir within NFL coaches and players who struggle with the insatiable external demands of their profession.  Television gigs.  Radio bits.  Social media access.  Post-game interviews.  Bloggers.  Beat writers.  National press personalities.  Fans armed with smart phones at every pub and convenience store.  The strain is enormous and it manifests itself in the game to game, week to week, season to season inconsistencies that are the nearly universal norm across the NFL landscape.

There’s one exception: the New England Patriots.  Since 2001 (15 seasons), the Patriots have 13 playoff appearances and division titles, won four Super Bowls and have notched at least 10 wins 14 times.  In those 15 season, the entire roster, with the exception of QB Tom Brady, has been flipped, two scandals have been navigated (Deflategate and Spygate), critical injuries and suspensions have been brushed aside and assistant coaches and front office gurus have come and gone.


No NFL team has been more consistent, more resilient and displayed a greater ability to block out the constant distractions, focus on the immediate task and execute.
“We’re on to Cincinnati”: Patriots head coach Bill Belichick repeated those words as the media pestered him with questions after a 41-14 meltdown against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014.  It seemed cliché – a defeated coach effectively saying he had already dismissed the loss and moved on to the next opponent.  For most coaches and teams, it would have been cliché.  The line between past, present and future isn’t that abrupt.  Not today.  Not with all the reminders and unwelcomed distractions.

But for the Patriots, it is – they went on to win the Super Bowl that year.  Why?  No other team can throw an iron curtain around their operation like the Patriots.  Problems are handled internally and external access is tightly controlled.  In short, any unnecessary noise is cancelled; what’s left is a team laser-focused on performance. 

It’s doubtful that Belichick pulls this off by taking his team for long walks in the woods.  Regardless of the means, Patriot coaches and players, like Muir, have created an insulated environment conducive to success.  That is no small accomplishment these days, as many of us can attest – me included.

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