Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Could we have a moment of silence? Please?

This was originally published in The Indianapolis Star several years ago, but lately I've been thinking again about the noise of our lives....

As soon as I start pumping my gas, it begins. A small television on the side of the pump comes to life, and a tiny talking head announces the latest news. Luckily, there’s a mute button. Unluckily, the mute button silences the little man for only ten seconds.

I never thought of pumping gas as a quiet moment, but now that I can’t escape a news report that I don’t want to hear, I’m suddenly appreciative of my previous gas station experiences. And I wonder: who decided that I couldn’t have that quiet moment?

Probably the same people who set up televisions in waiting rooms. Waiting around for hours was never great fun, but listening to too-loud cartoons hasn’t made things any better! I used to get this waiting-room zen thing going. It was practically meditation. Now I find myself getting more tense and impatient the longer I have to listen to that grating noise. Another quiet time bites the dust!

I can understand how someone might think it a good idea to install televisions wherever quiet raises its noiseless head. After all, many of us dislike silence so much that we listen to music every possible waking moment. Boom boxes, radios, IPOD systems fill the air with musical selections that one person has chosen to share with the rest of the world. The music in restaurants and bars drowns out not only the quiet, but also any chance of conversation. Oases like the gas station must have seemed disturbingly peaceful to whatever good Samaritan thought of using televisions to save us all from the sounds of silence.

Maybe the ever-present noise of televisions in waiting rooms and bars, music in restaurants, radios in passing cars, and cell phones everywhere annoys me because I still have some hearing left! I haven’t deafened myself with years of wearing headphones and listening to music so loud that the people around me can sing along. I don’t have to rattle the windows with my stereo in order to feel that I’m having a good time. And I don’t go to concerts any more, even for the relatively mild-mannered entertainers I like. My last concert required ear plugs just to be bearable!

I can still hear – and I’m tired of listening! Walking through a mall means being bombarded by constantly changing music as I pass different stores. If a ringing cell phone doesn’t interrupt a movie, somebody’s ongoing commentary will. Other people are always choosing the soundtrack for my life!

Does silence scare everybody? Are we afraid that we might be forced to interact with a stranger in a TV-free waiting room? If we’re not instantly available by cell phone, do we cease to exist? Without music pounding at our brains, would we have to THINK? And who knows what we might have to do with our kids if we didn’t have computers and televisions and video games!

I know we don’t have to listen to real birds since we have singing clocks. And we’re really involved with the lives of our television friends and family. And yes, it’s true that music hath charms to soothe every troubling thought out of our heads. But couldn’t we just try a quiet moment now and then?

Couldn’t we turn it all off?

And listen?

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