Human ears are amazing when they’re working right.
When a person’s ears are in perfect working order, he or she can hear sounds ranging from zero to one hundred and forty decibels. As a point of reference, whispers are around twenty-five decibels and normal talking is about fifty-five. When sounds reach ninety decibels, it becomes uncomfortable to hear them.
Uncomfortable is a nice word to describe what I am, but it doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head. To be honest, there are times these days when I would like to use a word not even close to nice to ask loud talkers to pipe down.
My dad, Rex Wayne, was known to say Hey, take five! He was a man who needed dead air sometimes. The apple didn’t fall far.
One hundred decibels—it’s my conservative estimate for the loudness of dialogue today. It’s up about forty decibels from what is considered normal for conversation. But then, polite conversing is so…out of fashion. It’s understandable though, because it’s hard to be heard when everybody is talking over everybody else. I mean, what can a person do when he or she has grasped the greatest, most righteous and truest of all opinions—one that simply must be heard above all others? The only thing to be done is to get louder. And LOUDER.
It even happens on social media—where, until now, it never occurred to me a rise in decibels can actually happen without any noise at all. Words themselves—how they are strung together and punctuated—actually have the power to make noise.
It happens like this.
Someone types out an outrageous statement—one totally meant to stir the pot, yet understated and passive—using only lower-case letters to appear kind. Eight hundred comments follow, each one escalating and belittling the one before it, mastering the use of ALL CAPS and multiple exclamation points!!! Then BOOM. We’ve reached one hundred and forty nasty decibels without a sound—fifty decibels above the comfort level.
So do you think my resulting tinnitus will be permanent?
I know plenty of people who refuse to add to this brand of noise pollution. I like them a lot. In a country where we love to throw people into categories, these people I like don’t fit in any of our favorite ones. Oh, don’t be fooled—they are not passive. No sir. I’m watching them. They have their own way of speaking.
Instead of using words, they use their hands and their feet. All the things they want to scream about from the highest mountaintop, they take to the streets. Grassroots. Rather than being a speaker of ideas, they go right on ahead and become a doer of them. They don’t wait for the green light, a confirmation or an election. They aren’t holding their breath hoping for this decision or that one. They are not fans of words—therefore I think of them as counterculture—as revolutionaries.
Anyone can talk about good, be passionate for good and even protest for good. There are plenty of versions of good from which to choose—it’s a regular Smorsgasbord out there.
By now, I’m desensitized to most all of it. I’ve begun to tune it all out.
I have my earplugs in and I’m listening to James Taylor. Or rain sounds. Or sometimes I listen to nothing at all so I can hear my faith speak into the ugliness again.
I’m inclined toward those people doing good. I’m leaning in to ones who are okay with their lives being disturbed, interrupted and shaken up for a bit if there’s work to be done or help to be given. People holding their personal comfort and their personal money loosely intrigue me. If I hear them at all, they are speaking barely above a whisper. They sweat and get their hands dirty. They invite people with sad stories to sit on their couches and cry with them. They don’t give a single crap about anyone knowing their names. I know them by the handprint they leave, not by the words they speak or write.
I see them, rather than hear them. Look around and you’ll see them too. They’re the ones already at work while the loud talkers talk—droning on and on.
I want to be like them—the workers—the ones with real field experience who say the important, life-giving things without ever speaking a word.
I wish for one single day we would all quiet down. All of us. Maybe we’d like it. Maybe we’d like it so much we’d decide to stick with it—working out our differences at 30-50 decibels. That way, in the background, we could hear this gift of life as it hums along.
I hope for it. Until then, rain sounds in my ear buds will have to do.