One of my pet peeves is that there are very few public places--except maybe a library--where there is not an electronic device putting out a cacophony of images and sounds (the latter of which is often confused with what I once knew as "music"). Whether it's the grocery store, the doctor's office, or even the gym, there's an endless stream of stuff impinging upon your eyes and ears.
So, I was delighted to come across this piece, "Silence, Please," authored by Susan Hill. Here are some excerpts:
We have betrayed several generations of children in many ways — by giving the teaching of skills priority over that of knowledge, by making exams easier out of a false egalitarianism, by letting them choose their own morality from a soup of political correctness, by over-emphasising the importance of the computer as if it were anything more than a useful tool, and of the internet as if it were more content-rich than books. But we have also betrayed them by confiscating their silence and failing to reveal the richness that may be found within the context of "a great quiet".
It is fatally easy, as one grows older, to slip into the habit of grumbling that nothing is what it was and lamenting the inferiority of what is. We live in a noisy world but we have a remarkable facility for blotting out sounds that have no meaning for us at any given moment. We are a remarkably adaptable species. Trains have never been quiet places yet many people read books, and not just the literary equivalent of fast food, on them and many do scholarly and other work requiring considerable concentration. A high-flying friend who went through an academic career achieving "A" grades and starred firsts was never able to study without a background of pop music. Traffic, aeroplanes, iPods, muzak, TV, radio, constant chatter, barking dogs, heavy machinery — we no longer hear them. Yet when we arrive in a place of profound quiet, we "come to" and find something of ourselves that we did not realise we had lost, an attentiveness, a renewed awareness of our own innermost thoughts and sensations, as well as a great calm.
But so difficult has it become to find such oases of silence, that many children never experience it. In adapting to constant noise, we seem to have become afraid of silence. Why? Are we afraid of what we will discover when we come face to face with ourselves there? Perhaps there will be nothing but a great void, nothing within us, and nothing outside of us either. Terrifying. Let's drown our fears out with some noise, quickly.
The critic Philip Hensher complained recently about the background music to an exhibition, saying that museums were far better silent. Libraries always were relatively so, and certainly most academic reference ones still are, but muzak has been creeping into public lending libraries lately, because the management has decided that silence is elitist and off-putting — despite numerous voices raised to the contrary....
Silence is a rich and fertile soil in which many things grow and flourish, not least an awareness of everything outside oneself and apart from oneself, as well, paradoxically, as everything within. The Bible is full of people gaining understanding and wisdom and being given important messages, when they go into silent places, to pray or simply to rest in the presence of God. Prophets and saints went into deserts and up mountains. Jesus felt the need to get away from the crowds that followed him and pressed in on him, to be alone to pray and be refreshed, gather himself together again in silence and solitude. We call it recharging our batteries.
Our children are too rarely given that opportunity or taught that the contrast between noise and quietness, like the parallel one between being in company and being alone, is vital to the growth and maturity of the individual. Silence is a place, a quality but its value increases when it is entered into as a place of contrast. We enjoy the light so much because the darkness exists. Silence is all the richer when experienced after we have been in noisy places. Solitude is enjoyable as a contrast to company. A friend teaches in a primary school and her class raised money by having a sponsored silence. Not only did they do well financially — she told me that they enjoyed the novelty of being quiet so much they asked if they could have a "silent time" more often, so she has set aside half an hour for it every Friday afternoon. It has had a magical effect on the behaviour of some hyperactive seven year olds, and when asked to draw or write a description of what the silence means to them, what they feel or think or imagine or hear or see when they are inside their silent space, she told me that the results are the best of any she has had from them. They have focused and concentrated, and gone down into their own minds and hearts, to become aware of all kinds of subtleties and minute details of the world around them, as well as within themselves, in the stillness and quietness.
Now, find a quiet place and read the whole thing here.