On the first balmy day of spring, a man walks in long strides to the corner of 5th Avenue and Chamber Street in front of the Mayor’s mansion. He steps on a soapbox, raises himself up to his full height of six feet two inches, rests his quiet, calm eyes upon the milling crowd, takes off his hat, and begins to speak. His clear voice carries with the afternoon breeze and reverberates through the air. This does not appear to be another pandering, ineffective political speech. People stop and listen to this alert man speaking in an unstrained voice, and they motion one another to be quiet.
“We are tormented by noise,” he begins, “honking horns, slamming doors, yelling and loud music degrades the spirit and destroys the ear. We hear the word ‘noise polution’ bandied about but the problem is never solved. Realize the enormity of this problem! Hear the solution!
Noise is not sound. Noise obscures and cheapens sound. Sounds are all the useful things we hear – the rhythm of footsteps, the timbre of voices, the murmurings of nature, the bustling of the city. Noise tears up every day of life. Just as you are trying to read or think, a honk or a yell destroys your concentration. Noise torments us daily. Just as we are trying to sleep, a car alarm shoves us into wakefulness. And yet we invent new ways to torment ourselves. Take the ubiquitous and pointless car alarms. These alarms seem to last forever, are incredibly loud, and are triggered by any little push or poke. Noise degrades everyday life. Noise takes pleasure and meaning from sound and exhausts us as we buffet and ignore it. Noise upsets thought and makes life unpleasant. Without the barrage of noise we would hear sounds and enjoy listening. Hearty laughter and exuberant talk loses force in a noisy environment.
Noise begets noise! When we stop listening because there is too much noise we start to shout with the ungainly, blaring, unmodulated voices of the deaf. Instead of smiling to listen instead of speaking with poise and timing, everyone blitherers and babbles non-stop. Why? Because there is too much general noise all the time. If someone holds still and skips a beat, noise pours in. Noise not only destroys sound directly, but it destroys sound by destroying silence. Therefore the urgent importance of stopping general noise is not limited to or even most important in the disturbance caused by general noise. The urgent importance of stopping general noise is for the enhancement of all of life. The habit of not hearing not only exhausts us, but detaches us from life and the people we love. Don’t you notice how we disregard each other’s contemplation and serenity, how we interrupt one another? Contemplation and serenity have become objects of envy, to be leveled. Why? Because the habit of reflection is hard to come by in the constant pandemonium – we shove as we are shoved. You and I must take our world in hand, we must make room again for listening and hearing, for speaking and being heard, for reflecting and laughing.
Noise is also the assassin of sleep, the stalker of dreams. Familiar voices and wind in the trees are like lapping water and lull us into sweet sleep. Noise chips and crashes and stabs at our sleep, leaving us irritated and depleted. Don’t you want to protect yourself? Don’t you want to rid yourself of the bandits, robbers pirates and murderers of sleep and life. Let us fight back and secure the seas and lands of ourselves.
Callow and shallow people make shattering noise to destroy the thoughts and sleep of others, meanly and deliberately leveling the possibilities of life. But what can we do about these crimes? Pursuing legal action would be fruitless. I propose a case by case revolution against unnecessary noise and noise makers! No more shall we let people disturb us, no more shall they go unpunished! Each of you take a switch from this basket! Whenever someone commits a noise crime against humanity – lash away! This will associate disapproval with noise and discourage noisy people from their invasion of our spheres of life. This revolt will bring great rewards by boomeranging the consequence of noise back to the mindless noise makers.”
As the crowd ponders this proposal a shrill whistle from a red-faced man to another man across the street distracts their thoughts. But then a low hum of indignation rises from the crowd. The revolution against noise begins as a young man takes a switch from the basket and moves in on the red-faced man shouting across the street and clanging on the aluminum lamp post. And now everywhere sweet swishing and lashing shall drive out clatter and clamor.
About the Author
Phin Upham is an investor who lives in NYC and San Francisco. He has studied at Harvard University and Wharton Business School (UPenn) and is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.