Sounds of Silence; Sounds of Life

Morning: A small plane humming overhead. Television cartoon dialogue transfixes 3-year-old daughter, Payton; the pattering of little feet as she chases a ball she’s been playing with. Water flowing into a new load in the washing machine. Baby Caroline gurgling and whining, alternatively happy and needing attention. Debbie and I talk a bit about the news of the day and the daily schedule; there’s the sound of silverware on breakfast dishes.

These are the sounds of our morning. Unremarkable. Satisfying. Life.

When do the sounds of life become the sound of noise? The answer differs from person to person, and of course one person’s melody is another’s agony. I have found myself recently saying to my teenage son: that’s not music it’s just noise (something most of us heard fro our own parents). Michael likes “screamo,” which is horrendous. He reminds me that he does not like rap music, which he knows I consider one of the worst forms of noise.

According to one report:

Americans named noise as the number one problem in neighborhoods. Of the households surveyed, 11.3 percent stated that street or traffic noise was bothersome, and 4.4 percent said it was so bad that they wanted to move. More Americans are bothered by noise than by crime, odors and other problems listed under “other bothersome conditions.”

The European Union says: “Around 20% of the Union’s population or close on 80 million people suffer from noise levels that scientists and health experts consider to be unacceptable, where most people become annoyed, where sleep is disturbed and where adverse health effects are to be feared. An additional 170 million citizens are living in so-called ‘grey areas’ where the noise levels are such to cause serious annoyance during the daytime.”

The World Health Organization says: “Traffic noise alone is harming the health of almost every third person in Europe. The WHO is also the source for the startling statistic about noise killing 200,000 people a year. Its findings estimate that 3 percent of deaths from ischemic heart disease result from long-term exposure to noise.

Another group points out:  

The word “noise” is derived from the Latin word “nausea,” meaning seasickness. Noise is among the most pervasive pollutants today. Noise from road traffic, jet planes, jet skis, garbage trucks, construction equipment, manufacturing processes, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and boom boxes, to name a few, are among the audible litter that are routinely broadcast into the air. Noise negatively affects human health and well-being. Problems related to noise include hearing loss, stress, high blood pressure, sleep loss, distraction and lost productivity, and a general reduction in the quality of life and opportunities for tranquility.

Here are some ideas on how you can protect yourself from harmful noise:

The key word in dealing with noise is prevention! We want to eliminate unwanted noise when we can. When noise cannot be eliminated, we want to keep it as low as possible. Here are some things to do:

Wear hearing protectors when exposed to any loud or potentially damaging noise at work, in the community (heavy traffic, rock concerts, hunting, etc.) or at home (mowing the lawn, snow blowing the driveway, etc.). Cotton in your ears won’t work. Hearing protectors include ear muffs and ear plugs (not swimmer’s plugs), some that are custom-made and individually molded. This protection can be purchased at drug stores, sporting goods stores or can be custom-made. Check with your audiologist to find out what best suits you.

Limit periods of exposure to noise. Don’t sit next to the speakers at concerts, discos, or auditoriums. If you are at a rock concert, walk out for awhile give your ears a break ! If you are a musician, wear ear protection–it is a necessity! Take personal responsibility for your hearing.

Pump down the volume! When using stereo headsets or listening to amplified music in a confined place like a car, turn down the volume. Remember: if a friend can hear the music from your headset when standing three feet away, the volume is definitely too high. Don’t be afraid to ask others to turn down the volume.

Educate yourself about the damaging effects of noise and what you can do to prevent your exposure to noise.

Educate others and take action! Educate your children through discussion and by example. Wear your ear protection and encourage your children to follow your example. Provide them with ear protection. Remind them to turn down stereo headsets. A rule of thumb is that, if sound from a head set can be heard by others 3 feet away, it is too loud.

Be a responsible consumer. Look for a noise rating when buying recreational equipment, children’s toys, household appliances, and power tools. Choose quieter models, especially for equipment that you use often or close to your ears like a hair dryer. If there is no noise rating, contact the manufacturer and ask for one!

Inspect your child’s toys for noise danger just as you do for small parts that can cause choking. Remember, too, that children tend to hold toys close to their ear which can pose additional threat for hearing damage.

Have your hearing tested by an audiologist certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), especially if you are concerned about possible hearing loss. Remember the warning signs of over exposure to noise.

Be aware of the noise in your environment and take control of it when you can. Be an advocate for reducing noise pollution. Your county may have a local noise ordinance. Find out what you can do in your community to advocate for quiet. For example, some schools have set a decibel limit for the music played at school dances in order to protect the students’ hearing.

Be an advocate! Remember there are no regulations governing how loud sound can be in public places such as discos, movie theaters, dance clubs, exercise centers. Work with owners, managers, and community leaders to create a healthier less noxious listening environment.

 I’m ready for a new week because of the great sounds of a Sabbath rest: The soaring strains of worship music led by the 12 Stone band, the banter and chatter of our family Sunday dinner, rustling fall leaves at an evening picnic on a beautiful day. A freight train whistle as it signals its way through Suwanee. My beautiful wife’s gentle voice to end the day. 

Oh, and yesterday I found my long-lost Crosby, Stills, and Nash CD. Now that’s music.

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About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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