Bob Dylan made major headlines last year when he became the first musician in history to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Yesterday, the Nobel Foundation published Mr. Dylan's lecture (a requirement of all prize recipients). Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, described the speech as "extraordinary" and "eloquent."
I was especially struck by Dylan's opening words:
"When I first received this Nobel Prize for Literature, I got to wondering exactly how my songs related to literature. I wanted to reflect on it and see where the connection was. I'm going to try to articulate that to you. And most likely it will go in a roundabout way, but I hope what I say will be worthwhile and purposeful."
In these few short sentences, which took Dylan less than 30 seconds to recite, we learn an extremely valuable lesson.
"I got to wondering"
Dylan could have simply sat back and basked in the glory of his great accomplishment. Instead, he used this opportunity to engage in an exercise that many of us have forgotten how to do, or at least have neglected.
Dylan stopped to think.
Out of Dylan's reflection came some deep discoveries. Mr. Dylan revealed the deep impact made on him by Buddy Holly, the famed musician (and friend) who tragically died in a plane crash at the age of 22. Also, the influence of Moby-Dick and The Odyssey on his legendary songwriting.
We can only imagine how much time Dylan has taken through the years to stop and reflect. This type of deep thinking was made manifest in his songs and poetry.
We also saw it in the way Dylan handled the whole event of being awarded the Nobel Prize in the first place, several months ago. Dylan famously refrained from accepting the award, or even making any public comment about receiving it, for two weeks. (According to reports, Dylan didn't initially respond to calls from the academy that awards the prize.)
Some thought this reaction was rude. One member of the academy described Dylan's behavior as "impolite and arrogant."
It turns out, Dylan was just processing it all.
When he finally did break his silence, he described receiving the award as "amazing," "incredible," and otherwise "beyond words."
"Whoever dreams of something like that?" he asked one interviewer.
Instead of saying he was humbled by the experience, Dylan actually proved it. Many who were initially quick to judge Dylan's silence were now appeased.
But why did so many deem this delayed reaction inappropriate?
It has a lot to do with the world we currently live in. With email, social media, and other electronic communication, we've been conditioned to respond immediately, and we expect others to do the same.
It's this pressure that leads many of us to speak and react without thinking things through. Because of this, we say and do things we regret. We damage relationships. And we add a lot of unnecessary stress to ourselves.
But Dylan taught us something different:
Thoughtful responses are always better.
Thinking before speaking or acting helps us to put into words what we truly feel over time, not just the first emotion that strikes us. It keeps us from simply getting caught up in the day-to-day, going through the motions in a way that wastes time in the end. And it inspires us to stop and listen to those who disagree with our opinion, instead of getting upset or snapping back.
Furthermore, focused thinking enables you to do great work.
It helps you build awareness of self, so that you don't forget where you've been, and so you know exactly where you're going.
So, take a lesson from Mr. Dylan, and make it a practice to do the following:
Find a quiet place, with no interruptions, and engage in deep, concentrated thought.
Or, as he put it much more poetically:
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
--Bob Dylan, "The Times They Are A-Changin'"