I am a lover of silence. It is this same love that is bound up with my passion for books. The writer Stefan Zweig once defined a book as a “handful of silence that assuages torment and unrest.”
While the world teems about me, drowning out the sounds of stillness with incessant noise, there is a notion of displacement, as though I wasn’t meant for these times of television sets, ipods, car alarms, cell phones, all day-every day music in stores, restaurants, office buildings, malls, and elevators. Why is it, I wondered, that silence is a diminishing natural resource, so alien to our way of life that its very existence seems to threaten the fabric of our culture? Why is it that we love noise, fear silence and evade a stillness that puts us in closer connection with things that give us happiness if we let them?
It is a strange and intoxicating premise: to investigate the obscure root causes of our inability to be quiet. Like a form of narcissism, are we becoming consumed with a self-saturation of our own largely uninteresting cacophony? I believe that we are, and as we become noisier, we also lose touch with the many dimensions of silence itself, a silence that research suggests is as therapeutic–as essential–to the human animal as antibiotics or uncontaminated food.
We suffer from noise pollution; insomnia, aggression, heart disease, even decreased longevity…the side-effects of enduring noise. It’s almost as if noise itself is a disease, a pathogen. And because of it, silence has become the most precious—and dwindling—commodity of our modern world, more than money, power, even happiness.
It doesn’t take a sage to understand that those who have grasped solitude are the special emissaries to the tranquility of silence.
Henry David Thoreau for one: “Silence is the universal refuge, the sequel to all dull discourses and all foolish acts, a balm to our every chagrin, as welcome after satiety as after disappointment.”