When I taught at a university, discovering that most of my students never experienced any periods of silence during their normal day appalled me. How could they function physically, much less think, with noise surrounding them all day long? Did it affect their level of energy? Their ability to learn?
But they gladly shared their schedules with me and bragged of waking to the radio that had been on the entire night long, then watching television as they dressed and got ready for classes. And they learned to chat with friends with a background of music or broadcast programing going on all the time. Of course, once in class, they listened to the lecture, but traveling there always included the car radio or music from their smart phones through the wonder of earbuds.
Earbuds came to their rescue even in places that were supposed to be quiet, like the library. They never wanted to miss a chance to hear their current favorite music or radio chatter even when trying to understand some difficult material.
Silence in their daily lives could only be counted in minutes, not hours.
On the other hand, one of my favorite memories of my college years involved time spent silently looking out of my dorm room’s large windows, frequently around the twilight hour. My heart and my mind exultantly raced with the many possibilities that lay before me, just waiting for my selection. The experience was both calming and exhilarating whether I sat alone, engrossed in my own thoughts, or my roommate joined me in idle chatter.
The view was of a small park just across the drive from the dormitory. I treasured quietly watching the change of seasons in the foliage and flowers during the two and half years that I lived there.
The only time in my life that remotely mirrored that of my students was a particular period of heartbreak when I was left betrayed and desolate, after losing companionship, social status, and financial support. For about a year I needed the constant distraction of other voices in my ears because silence allowed me to mull over the myriad personal problems that kept me from sleeping.
But for me, that was an aberration, not a way of life. I learned to turn corners, win new battles, and seek different rewards. I found a different abundant life.
However, I still worry about my former students. While I hope their noise/music/chatter is no longer constant, I fear their lifestyle is even more widespread today and includes additional age and socio-economic groups.
Copyright 2018 by Kaye Fairweather