I recently participated in a discussion about how we relate to the world through our senses. It was sparked by one of those hypothetical questions: If you had to give up one of your senses, which one would you give up first? Which one last? [As if we would ever have any choice in such a thing.] The interesting bit, of course, was when someone elaborated on why they chose that sense in that position (first or last). I decided I’d give up hearing first. Oh, I would miss the sounds of my loved ones, and the birds, and various pieces of music, et cetera. Yet it is noise that has the greatest capacity to bother me.
I grew up in a Southern California suburb, and there was always a certain amount of noise. I learned how to focus and tune out what I didn’t want or need to hear. In my 20s I moved to rural Northern California, and there was a lot less noise. Six months later when I returned to Southern California for a visit, it was very difficult for me to have a focused conversation. Besides the person speaking, there was the sound of the fan, and the airplane going overhead, and kids playing in the street, and the neighbor’s radio, and someone’s dog barking, and an emergency vehicle siren in the distance, and on and on. My ability to focus my hearing had become lazy. I also realized I was very happy to live in a place where there was not quite as much background noise, nor was it as loud.
I was raised to be quiet. I remember a relative complaining because someone’s little girl walked too loudly through the house; I learned to walk very quietly. My mom took a job working graveyard shift when I was 10 years old, so when I was at home I learned to be very quiet. For the same reason, I didn’t often have friends over, because they wouldn’t understand the need for quiet.
Out in the normative world, I don’t think people give a lot of thought to the idea of quiet. Have noticed people will react to something as being too loud if it is a sound they don’t like. Someone’s radio is too loud (in car or backyard) if it is playing music the accidental listener doesn’t like. One of our neighbors has parrots, which I enjoy, so their shrieks were never all that bothersome to me. However, several other neighbors objected to the shrieks, to the point that they called law enforcement and even eventually sued the parrot owner. Dogs barking tend to annoy me, mostly if it lasts past three to four minutes, or if the dog is barking at me while I’m in my own yard. I’ve gotten used to neighborhood chickens and geese, but when we had one neighbor with guinea fowl, they got to be a bit much. The neighbor’s goats . . . well, I’d have to invoke the three to four minute rule again.
Actually, I don’t mind the animal chatter all that much. It’s the human noise that gets to me. Our next-door neighbor is kind-hearted, and now has friends living in a trailer about 15-feet from our bedroom window. Unfortunately, the mother-in-need has a very loud voice. I know she has the capacity to be quiet, but she yells a lot, even when she is not upset about something. They also have two children, and guess which parent they take after in the sound department? Yep. These are kids who take great delight in beating on trashed vehicles and the sides of dumpsters for as long as half-an-hour before any responsible adult suggests they stop. Sigh . . .
Meanwhile, our backyard has become an oasis of green and calm (well, except for the spill-over) for various neighborhood cats (and escaped chickens). I find myself wondering if people who make a lot of loud noise, whether vocally or with machinery, have any idea they have a choice. Speak in a quiet, calm voice. Use a broom instead of a blower. Listen to the crickets, or the wind in the trees. Turn down the volume.