People say ‘silence is golden’ without really understanding just why that is: it’s a platitude. Far from it being odd for us to consider the quality of silence, we deaf people don’t just live intimately with it, we inhabit it, and return to it when we take the old CI or HA off. It’s an odd thing, really, to inhabit two worlds not simultaneously, but alternately, and in the same body, and the thought has occurred to me that it is really almost a Jekyll and Hyde dichotomy: hearing within normal range with a CI, but deaf as a post when you take it off. You’ve got to be able to negotiate the two states equally since you spend about a third to a half of your life being deaf (it is mostly asleep, admittedly, but you want silence in your waking hours sometimes just to get away from all the cacophony). Silence is a blessing when the brain wants a bit of a rest.
So why, in the name of all that is wonderful, do hearing people tolerate so much rubbish noise? They’ve got the gift of hearing 24/7, but they don’t half take it for granted, otherwise why would they put up with it? It’s well known that modern urban life has a high stress quotient allied to noise pollution and after a lifetime of living in deep silence I’m not as desensitised as a hearing person who has become acclimatised to horrendous irruptions of noise.
There are so many beautiful sounds in nature – birdsong, leaves rustling, and the like – as well as one of humanity’s greatest inventions, the gift of music – but people seem to be quite apathetic about the effects of noise pollution. And things sound better surrounded by silence: it brings out the beauty of birdsong or of babbling brooks when you don’t have to fight with passing cars just to hear them. Still, I use passing cars as a ‘listening in noise’ test. I’ve taken to ringing the Bear walking home from the station, to see how well I can hear him as the traffic roars by. By contrast, construction workers can wear ear defenders (though I should think even then it isn’t much fun) but the rest of us in the vicinity of building works just have to put up with the noise engendered. Passers-by only get a short, sharp blast but at work we’re opposite a construction site which has been going on (or up!) for months with endlessly repetitive bursts from pile drivers and jackhammers. And all the while this excess of sound drives people needlessly into the silence: I once knew someone who was deafened by being ‘on the helicopters’ in the Navy.
The roar of traffic; the insistent der-der-der until someone gives in and answers the phone (and don’t get me started on mobile ringtones); dreadful muzak in shops. I was in IKEA the other day with horrendously distorted muzak blaring out, which followed us all the way back to the car. The Bear snorted and said the tannoy was clearly designed only for announcements and not music, and this only increased the distortion of this mega-amplified noise. What it felt like to work there all day with that racket going on I daren’t think! I don’t think I’m alone in this: high-profile people are walking out of muzakicised shops. There’s a campaign to stop it, and really there’s a disability aspect to it too, because it makes it more difficult for deaf people to understand in shops and restaurants, and the constant sound input can’t do anyone’s ears or nerves any good.
And talking of tannoys that annoy, on the train the other day I was subjected to an announcement which came out at such high volume everyone around winced: it was live (rather than pre-recorded) explaining why we’d ground to a halt. Except no-one could understand it at all: everyone looked puzzled, shrugged, turned to their neighbours, and asked, only to be greeted with a shake of the head. I guess I was absolutely equal with everyone else then, but I did wonder whether the announcer had heard his voice shaking the entire train. So counterproductive, and it’s a known phenomenon, so why don’t train companies get their act together on this one?
No wonder people are irritated and stressed with this constant level of exposure to meaningless noise. Pings, pongs, bings and bongs, beeps, hisses, squeals and squeaks, brakes that scream and screams that break, rat-tat-ttttattt, clatter, CRAAAAASSSH, BANG WALLOP bong boing bdoing bdoing bang boo backa wooo-aaaaahhhh woooaaaaah woooooooooowwwwwoooowwwoaaah. I feel quite fraught just contemplating it. I get that some noises have to alert you to the presence of something dangerous: sirens, for example and that little babies cry because it’s what they do and it’s how they attract mum and dad’s attention when there’s something wrong, but why do people allow their older children to SHRIEK so much? Or are they desensitised to the sound levels? Which can’t be good for them, either! As a society, it seems that we are like passive parents, feebly protesting at best. Part of it is, of course, it’s now frowned on for other adults to intervene, whereas when I was a child if another parent told you off, your own parents would back them up and give you *another* telling-off. I’m starting to understand now why children should be seen and not heard . . . but maybe they are overstimulated and are fighting to establish their place in this noisy, noisy world of ours? My parents were keen to make me aware of the sound I couldn’t hear, so I learnt to do things quietly, by feel, and so on. I learnt, for example, to avoid smacking my lips while eating and not to glug while drinking.
Now then. This post was meant to be about silence and not sound, but the sound has taken over, as it seems bound to in the end, especially in modern life. I’m convinced the world would be a better place with a little less noise and a little more appreciation of the lovely little things in life that do us so much good, and we’d all feel better for it.