Greetings. I'm not sure what possessed me to sit in the "Quiet" car on yesterday morning's train ride to New York City. But I did, and it turned out to provide an interesting lesson about people, travel, and all the opportunities we miss to learn and grow. Not that I really understood what I was getting into during the first twenty minutes of the journey. After all, I looked at the sign hanging from the ceiling with a slightly more flexible interpretation than some of the other patrons. To me, the sign's meaning was clear: "QUIET CAR–Please refrain from loud talking or using cell phones in this car." And that seemed perfectly reasonable. I had plenty of work to do and, besides, I don't really think of myself as a loud person…especially not on trains.
But when two gentleman in the row behind me struck up a conversation, albeit a not so 'loud' one, I quickly learned that some people take these signs a bit more seriously. "This is a quiet car!" shouted a woman in the row behind them. "You're suppose to be quiet!" Which evoked the somewhat confused response that "we weren't talking very loudly." "You were loud enough to disturb me," the woman quickly replied in a voice that was definitely loud enough to disturb (or amuse) me. And soon all was quiet, by her definition. Though that seemed to include some fellow passengers whose naturally loud breathing was even more apparent in the silence, and a gentleman right across from me who had two awesome habits. First, he seemed to pound the keys of his laptop as though performing a Mahler symphony. And, second, he spent most of the trip clicking and unclicking his ball point pen as though it might provide some inspiration or at least relief from the problem he was working on.
And in the silence of soda cans opening, more than occasional moans and groans, newspaper pages turning, coughs, sneezes, and other unique bodily sounds, I imagined what might have happened if the 50 or so people on this train car actually decided to get to know each other. To find out what each other did, why they were traveling, and what meaningful connections might arise. Quietly. I imagined new learning taking place. The sharing of tips on things to see and do in the Big Apple. Business opportunities worth exploring. Possible collaborations. Job leads. Advice about weather. An unlimited set of possibilities that could have been sparked if we weren't all in the "Quiet" car and compelled to play by one particular passenger's passion for the rules.
I'm all for rules, and all for testing their limits. That's how most new ideas ever come to be. But maybe there are a lot of people who don't want to stretch their thinking on a Tuesday morning. They just want to keep to themselves and crunch out whatever work they have to do without the threat of somebody stirring the pot or giving them a fresh way to look at something. Maybe most of the world is one big "Quiet" car, but I never got the memo.
We win in business and in life by talking to strangers in our midst. And, in the process unlocking a new world of possibilities. There is always a time to be quiet, but it needs to be balanced with the reality that "quiet" could limit our true potential.