I think we must have an aversion to silence.

A case in point is the background music in restaurants, hotel lobbies, department stores and the like. I suspect the “gray noise” is intended to mask the sounds of clinking cutlery, clanking cash registers and vociferous vacuum cleaners. On more than one occasion, I’ve asked restaurant staffers to turn the music down since I can’t even hear what those across the table are saying.

Or what about that Sunday worship service? No sooner has the pastor invited the congregation to meditate quietly, when the pianist or organist pipes in. Invariably, it’s some recognizable hymn, and I can’t help humming along. Any hope of meditation goes right out the window.

And certainly, on more than one occasion I’ve suffered “foot in mouth” disease because I felt compelled to offer a snappy comeback in a rapidly deteriorating conversation. The thought of remaining silent, or simply saying, “I need to think this over,” never crosses my mind. My impulse is to fill the silence, no matter the cost.

So just what is the problem with silence? Do we fear that in silence we’ll actually have to do some thinking? Or worse, will our brains simply go blank? Oliver Wendell Holmes called silence a “poultice, coming to heal the blows of sound.” These days, Holmes’s blows of sound are deafening — literally.

Scan the Almanac section of the Cody Enterprise, and note the number of complaints about noise that prompt folks to call police. From dogs barking and raucous parties to loud cars, noise can drive us crazy.

So how do you know if the noise around you is too loud? According to studies, prolonged exposure to levels above 85 decibels will eventually harm your hearing. The League of the Hard of Hearing has a rule of thumb: If you have to shout in order to be heard three feet away, then the noise is probably damaging your hearing.

Food for thought for restauranteurs.

Of course, noise doesn’t have to be loud to be annoying and distracting — like that organ during meditation time or the neighbor’s dog’s incessant barking. But clearly, if the decibel level of the world around us dropped a notch or two, we’d save our sanity, our hearing and our understanding.

Think of all the lyrics we don’t hear correctly like the classic Fifth Dimension’s “Age of Asparagus” instead of “Age of Aquarius.” For me, it was the Beatles’ “Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds” rather than “Lucy in the Sky.” If the noise weren’t a factor, we’d avoid becoming like a woman in Georgia who has watched the film Gone with the Wind over and over. However, as she explained, “Until I actually read the book, I thought Rhett’s last words were, ‘Frankly, I’m here and I wanna dig a dam.’”

William Penn once wrote, “True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.”

Besides, if we’re quiet once in a while, we might avoid that “open mouth, insert foot” syndrome. Who wants to eat shoe leather anyway? It tastes like a sour dishrag; at least I’m guessing that’s the case.

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