John Francis: How Do Years Of Silence Change Someone? For almost three decades, John Francis has been a planetwalker, traveling the globe by foot and sail with a silent message of environmental responsibility. For 17 years he didn't speak a word.
NPR logo

How Do Years Of Silence Change Someone?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/364150411/365510522" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
How Do Years Of Silence Change Someone?

How Do Years Of Silence Change Someone?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/364150411/365510522" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's the TED RADIO HOUR from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. John Francis is an environmental activist. In about a month, after he decided to stop talking, things started to get quiet.

JOHN FRANCIS: Even though I wasn't speaking, I was thinking about conversations and arguments that I had in the past. And - oh, maybe I should have said that, or next time I'm going to say this. And it took about a month before the conversations stop rattling. And so when that happened, I could hear myself I think for the first time in a very long time.

RAZ: That was in 1973. And on his birthday that year, John Francis stopped talking. Now, this was about 18 months after he stopped doing something else that seems both eccentric and impossible. John stopped riding in cars. And it happened on a particular day in 1971. John was walking along San Francisco Bay when two oil tankers collided. And he watched as thousands of gallons of black oil seeped into the water. And so on that day, John Francis vowed to give up all forms of gas-powered transportation. And he decided, instead, to walk - everywhere.

FRANCIS: So I argued a lot with people about my walking and how one person might make a difference. I don't think I was convinced myself that one person could make a difference. And I decided that I would give my community a gift of my not speaking so much.

RAZ: So people would come up to you and say, hey, get in the car, man. Why don't you just stop doing that? And you would argue with them, and it just started to get you down?

FRANCIS: Yeah. Well, you know, it's just like I was - what I was doing mostly was kind of defending myself and arguing, yeah. So I wanted to stop that.

RAZ: So you just decided to stop talking?

FRANCIS: Yeah but just for one day. That was my idea was just to not speak for one day. But it just went on. But if I had started and someone said, John, if you stop speaking today, you're not going to speak for 17 years, I might not have gone on.

RAZ: Finding quiet isn't always an easy thing. I mean, it took John Francis 17 years. The world he lives in - the world we all live in - is noisy. And it's usually the loudest people who get most of the attention. So today on the show - quiet - ideas about quiet people, quiet minds and finding stillness in unexpected places.

During all that time that you didn't speak, was your inner voice the same? I mean, did it sound the same as the voice we're hearing now?

FRANCIS: You know, I don't think so. It was - I think my inner voice was different somehow.

RAZ: Later on the show, John Francis returns to explain how he functioned without speaking for so long, and why after 17 years he decided to start speaking again.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.