QUIET PLEASE: Why the Sounds of Silence Nourish our Mind and Body
George Prochnik would like the world to put a sock in it. He makes his case in a new book, In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise (Doubleday, $26). Here he explains himself (using his indoor voice):
Jackhammers. Leaf blowers. Car alarms. The aggravating, tinny sound coming out of iPod earphones. We’ve become so accustomed to noise, there’s almost an ingrained prejudice against the idea that silence might be beneficial. If you tell someone to be quiet, you sound like an old man. But it’s never been more essential to find sustainable quiet. Silence focuses us, brings us closer to the people around us, improves our health, and is a key to lasting peace and contentment.
We need to excite people about the sounds you start to hear if you merely quiet things down a little. During a Japanese tea ceremony, the smallest sounds become a kind of artistry — the clacking spoons on a bowl, the edges of a kimono brushing against the floor. In ancient times, even those who entered a Zen garden without being in a silent frame of mind — samurai warriors, even — were seduced into silence.
We have different samurai today: televisions blaring at high volume, restaurants assaulting our ears with deafening music. It’s okay to socialize with friends in a way that doesn’t revolve around noise. At work and at home, we need to find places that are escapes from the world of sound. That’s not as difficult as you might think. It may involve good earplugs (I favor blue Hearos from the Xtreme Protection Series), though you want it to be more encompassing. Find a fountain or a place where water flows. Falling water not only masks noise; it has acoustic properties that are psychologically beneficial.
In deaf communities, attentiveness is heightened in almost every aspect of life. If two deaf people are walking together, using sign language, they constantly watch out for each other and protect each other by holding the other in their gaze. They are connected yet also keenly aware of their surroundings. Even deaf teenagers! We in the hearing world can learn from them. If we remove the overwhelming blasts of noise, we become aware of an extraordinarily rich world around us — of little rustling sounds and the patter of footsteps, of bird songs and ice cracking. It’s astonishing how beautiful things sound when you can really listen.
~ Interview by David Hochman, Reader’s Digest May 2010 edition