On the loss of silence

Julius Lester’s A Commonplace Book talks today about the loss of rest and silence in American society.

This is something I find particularly troubling. The loss of rest because I’m often pretty bad about slowing down and taking time to be not-working and not-fretting-over-work-to-be-done myself (I’m working on this), the loss of silence because I still crave silence very much myself, and cannot function without my fair share of it.

When we went to see Bridge to Terabithia this weekend, I was horrified to see the theater has replaced their silent screen ads and trivia questions with audio-based, pre-movie advertising and programming. You couldn’t read a book with that noise aimed straight at you–which wasn’t loud, but was relentless; you could barely hold a conversation with the friends you’d come with; you could barely focus on your own thoughts–the programming was designed to constantly keep your attention on the screen while waiting for the movie.

I regularly complain–to staff and fellow customers both–about the television that’s always going at the post office. Few people understand. “Well, it can get pretty boring waiting in line,” one woman said. Most people I talk to seem to need noise. They don’t just get bored, they get restless without it. They don’t know what to do with themselves. They don’t know how to talk to the strangers around them or, better still, enjoy the random wanderings of their own silent minds.

And don’t get me started on airports. When, really, if there’s anywhere we need an oasis of silence, it’s in the airport after a long flight and a dash across the airport terminal. But more and more airports blare noise and programming at passengers in an attempt to keep them entertained.

I think many people don’t know how to be comfortable in silence anymore, and this terrifies me. It makes me think we’re closer to the future of Feed than is comfortable. Because it’s only few steps from being uncomfortable with one’s own thoughts to forgetting how to think them.

But the worst part is, because some people have forgotten how to be comfortable with silence, there’s an assumption that we’re all at ease with noise, crave it. Noise is the default; ask someone to turn off a television or radio in a public place, and folks look at you like you’re crazy. Because the desire for silence isn’t understood, it also isn’t respected.

Noise can be a good thing. We all need some noise, chatter, activity. But while I like my mp3 player as much as the next person, but there are places I won’t take it, and times when I know it’s time to turn it off.

I know, too, that when I make time for a quiet walk–even if I have to trick myself on a busy day, say that I’m walking to the bus, or walking for my health–my soul is quieter, and I fit more comfortably into my own skin.

Silence is a way away from the stresses of the world. It’s a way of taking time out, of regrouping. It’s something, I more and more strongly believe, that we can’t afford to completely lose, as individuals or as a society.

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