Clamoring for Quiet

Leslie Garrett by Leslie Garrett | August 3rd, 2010 | No Comments
topic: Health & Wellness

woman with hands over her earsChristmas might be months away, but I’m feeling awfully Grinch-like. Specifically, I find myself covering my ears and muttering about all this “Noise! Noise! Noise! NOISE!”

Although I can’t blame bamboozlers or pantookas, I’m certainly pointing the finger at leaf-blowers and cell phones.
Not to mention car horns, dogs (frequently my own) and air conditioners. Airplanes, video games and … sigh.

This desire for quiet runs in my family (though, from what I hear of my kids, it’s a family trait that’s reached its end).

My father makes his home on a dirt road beside a lake. The loudest noise he hears is the seagulls. And my mother refused to even have the radio on in the car, dismissing everything as “razzamatazz.” I used to roll my eyes. But Mom, as usual, was right. All that razzmatazz wreaks havoc with, not only our minds, but our bodies.

This doesn’t surprise Gordon Hempton. Hempton is an “acoustic ecologist” who wanders the world measuring sound … and seeking silence. He’s found it in a few places and believes it’s worth protecting. In fact, he calls silence “a basic human need.”

And it’s not just monks and librarians who back him up.

The World Health Organization cites a laundry list of ailments that can be the product of our noise-polluted days and nights, including “cardiovascular and psycho-physiological effects … annoyance responses and changes in social behaviour.”

Researchers in Italy and the UK, exploring the effect of various types of music on our bodies, discovered something that surprised them. It wasn’t the type of music that most dramatically lowered our heart rates, blood pressure and breathing. It was the pauses between the music. Silence, it seems, does more than soothe our souls.

This doesn’t surprise George Prochnik, either. Prochnik, author of the recently released In Pursuit of Silence, sought to understand the appeal of noise and the value of silence. “Noise wreaks havoc on all different parts of our bodies,” he said in an interview with “The heart rate accelerates. We get vasoconstriction. It’s been shown that the elevated blood pressure from nighttime noise continues all through the day … The really scary thing is even if we do habituate mentally to noise, that doesn’t change what’s happening to our bodies.”

But what constitutes silence? I know it doesn’t include leaf-blowers. But birds? Trickling water? It’s a question worth exploring. Which I’ll do … just as soon as I can get my dog to stop barking at the leaf-blowing neighbor’s barking dog.


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