Silence is Golden

My secondary school, at least until it turned comprehensive in my 5th year, had strict discipline: from the headmaster and his cane (yes, they were legal in those days . . . and I’ve not reached retirement age yet) to the impositions handed down by the prefects. One thing they were very hot on was progressing from class room to chapel, for the morning assembly, in total silence. On one morning, I’ve no idea why or what is was about, I was caught chatting. My penalty: to write (perhaps 4 sides of foolscap – remember that!?) on, you’ve guessed it, “Silence is Golden”.

I was lucky. I see to remember that some of these prefects had the game as to who could set the most difficult imposition. The winner was something like ‘the sex life of the inside of a tennis ball”. But this was the era of The Graduate, so the idea of a Sound of Silence was a fair one to have to write about. And it was probably a subject I should have been well-versed in, having been brought up on the belief that children are seen and not heard. I’ve no idea what I did write about but for a goody-goody like me to get an imposition at all was a very big thing.

Now, all these decades later, Silence, together with its opposites sound and noise, are a big issue for me again. Thankfully, on this occasion I can choose to write this blog rather than having the topic imposed on me!

One of my big lessons and on-going challenges, as I develop the tolerance of evolved consciousness and a necessary skill for city living, is coping with noise/sound.

First a question. What’s the difference between sound and noise? Very similar, I would suggest, to the difference between a plant and a weed. It depends very much on one’s personal perspective. Isn’t noise merely a sound that’s in the wrong time and/or place?

Take someone learning to play an electric guitar, for example. Or any instrument for that matter: except that someone next door is practicing the electric guitar, so it’s a sound/noise I’ve been hearing rather a lot of. ‘Rather a lot’. There’s another phrase that can mean so many different things to so many different people. For example it’s not just the sheer number of hours, or even the time of days: it’s that sometimes it’s stopping and starting at irregular intervals over a whole evening . . .

At this point I have to say that whoever the budding guitarist is, they are learning fast and actually getting quite good now. But it’s still chords and ‘going nowhere’ short sequences of notes. No tune one could hum along to or beat time with. If I could join in with it, I might be happier.

Although, I have to be fair, what I’ve had to listen to tonight (sometimes I do use it as an excuse to go out but I can’t do that everytime they start up) wouldn’t be out of place in a jazz club. Indeed, it won’t be long before I’ll be getting a grandstand seat to music that some people might pay to listen to. From noise to sound to music in just a few months. That’s actually rather impressive.

But when I’m trying to rest from an intense (and noisy) day’s work or concentrate on something, it is still, to me, NOISE! And a lesson in not letting it get to me . . . and an encouragement to put some effort into looking for a new place (see previous blog)!

Just as I struggle with any noise that isn’t music where and when I choose or deep and meaningful conversation, I do appreciate that there are others, perhaps brought up in a household that knew only sounds, who struggle with silence.

That’s a strange notion to me. Struggling with silence. Isn’t the absence of time and space filling sound a good thing? Maybe not always but most of the time? Take muzak in shops for example. And please, pubs and restaurant could we have one night a week that’s free of piped music? Why is there so much background music? Maybe because a large proportion of folks do find silence embarrassing. That, I feel, is a sad reflection on the current state of humanity.

But, either way, whether we struggle with silence or with noise, at least we have a readily available lesson in being more conscious . . . and an excellent indicator as to our progress in become more patient and tolerant.

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