The sound of silence

It is strange how loud the world seems when you are not filling it with your own noise

I am surrounded by people who think and speak aloud. I have no right to complain, because it comes with a heavenly package and may even be a reaction to my quieter disposition. I also get reminded that my silence isn’t empty, it is full of reverberation. I may have no riposte at this stage in my life when we call out “What did you say?” to one another from different rooms in the house.

I have never doubted that we cannot change this world by yelling, and our words would only have a meaning if we give them sufficient respect. Instead of raising voice, one can always make a statement through art, attire, ideas, and one’s attitude to life. We are only shallow because we have become enslaved by flagrant materialism and the glitter of affluence. This makes us believe that only material goods can satisfy us and we must therefore grab as much as we can.

Our print and electronic media like to make a noise. Truth and the reality often get lost in there screams. The blaming and the noise; they often make it about human beings, not about the truth. They are not bothered about the tangible world that exists beyond the newscasters hollering ‘breaking news’. I know many of a weaker disposition who have been put off Pakistani TV news shows because the combination of an annoying chime and the shouting newscaster gives them panic attacks. How can anyone live with so much screaming in his or her life?

Do you realise that we can no longer talk to each other? We just entertain each other through social media. We do not exchange ideas, we exchange images. We do not argue with propositions; we argue with (or about) good looks, celebrities and commercials. At too many points, our morbid-self invades the real self through words, sounds, lights, and actions. Contributing to it are real and unreal issues, ideologies, rationalisations, delusions, non-situations that look real, and nonquestions demanding consideration. As a result, factional disagreements, official rhetoric, the din of politics, and the general noise of life have now reached an intolerable volume.

The World Health Organisation has likened noise to a modern plague. It may cause stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, ulcers, problems with concentration (and memory) and sleep disturbance. Silence and solitude on the other hand, have exactly the opposite effects

The world was supposed to be a mosaic where we learn like children to stumble, and see as much light, love and colour as we can. But, living in an age of noise and bluster, happiness and success are being measured accordingly. We have become exhibitionists — craving to be seen and heard. This means living without mystery; knowing nothing of the mystery of our own lives, of another person, and nothing of the mystery of the world. It is passing over our own hidden qualities and those of the others. It also means floating on the surface, taking the world seriously only to the extent that it can be calculated and exploited; missing out on the crucial processes that make the daily life.

I have often been accused by medical colleagues of ignoring them during my Pakistan visits. They are right — I do not want to hear about their difficult patients by encroaching on their family or sleep time in the early hours of the morning. But I have neither given up meeting interesting people nor retired to a mute world in the wake of the unbearable sterile daily noise. It is sad, but the only people I have a conversation with are civil servants. At least when they quote luminaries they are not merely repeating something some anchor has babbled in their ear. They have the noble virtue of disagreeing politely with nearly everything I say. In fact, they disagree with almost everything they say themselves. And most importantly, they don’t think that shouting strengthens their arguments.

It was said that a hammer never complains of the noise. It is also strange how loud the world seems when you are not filling it with your own noise. Nonetheless, the presence of noise makes sense to some. They believe noise creates a new order or a new level of organisation in another network. It carries new information and creates a new meaning: first, because the interruption of a message signifies censorship and rarity; and second, because the very absence of meaning in pure noise or in the meaningless repetition of a message, by channelling auditory sensations, frees the listener’s imagination. The woeful noise that goes unheard in this world, however, is that of a heart breaking.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has likened noise to a modern plague. It may cause stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, ulcers, problems with concentration (and memory) and sleep disturbance. Silence and solitude on the other hand, have exactly the opposite effects, in addition to relaxing and making us more creative. Noise levels in Pakistan have reached critical heights, with values of 70-86decibels (db)recorded in urban areas. According to the WHO criteria, noise levels in residential areas should be 45db, 55db in commercial areas and 65db in industrial areas. The truth is that words are just noise; urgent action to remedy this situation is the only thing that should speak out loud.

When you sit in silence, you learn that silence has a motion; the world turns into a whisper when the wind kisses the trees, and the sea creams the shore. In this fluid universe of silence, dreams and stillness, there is no need to beat the drum called your ego. One need not always be saying something in this noisy world anyway. “Just give me a comfortable couch, a dog, a good book, and a woman. Then if you can get the dog to go somewhere and read the book, I might have a little bit of fun”.

The writer is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Visiting Professor. He tweets @AamerSarfarz

Published in Daily Times, September 13th 2018.