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The Power of Listening

October 22, 2019 8:48 pm Published by

Do people listen anymore? And if they do not, is it any surprise? Does it matter?

Alas, noise perpetually surrounds us, no matter how far we might try to remove ourselves in nature: there’s that A-330 flying at 33,000 feet, spreading its turbine whisper over thousands of kilometers of the earth over which it glides, the steady buzz of farm machinery and construction, the ubiquitous motorbikes buzzing by unseen in the far distance. Ask any sound recordist or musician attempting to record clean location dialogue for a period film about the old West or ancient Rome and she will unload a chorus of complaints about ambient noise – which you or I would naturally filter out. These days, with people, vehicles and machinery spilling into former virgin territory, they don’t even bother attempting escape background noise: everything is after-dubbed in a controlled sound studio.

Noise is measured in decibels, and different people have different levels of sensitivity:

Go to too many heavy metal concerts and you’ll lose your hearing, like many famed musicians. I SAID IF YOU GO TO TOO MANY – ah, forget it…

Townshend and Johnson are far from the only classic rockers who have encountered some hearing damage throughout their careers. Sting, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Jeff Beck and Ozzy Osbourne are among the many stars who have gone public with their hearing problems.

Living next door to train tracks, a motorcycle repair shop or a loudspeaker-armed mosque? Good luck with that. While over time you can get used to the barrage of noise and tune it out, it can still exert a negative effect on you…

If you really want to know what it’s like to lived bathed in racket, then take a trip around a third-world capital (including New York for good measure).

For when you travel to Africa or Asia the first time you get your real acute dose of city racket: Asian cities are the world’s noisiest, with Mumbai, at an average 100db, taking the grand prize. Interestingly enough, developed urban centers like Tokyo and New York are sitting up there above 90db, with buzzy Shanghai and Cairo.

Even in the environmentally-sensitive E.U., people suffer from ambient audio pollution:

“According to a European Union (EU) publication:

  • about 40% of the population in EU countries is exposed to road traffic noise at levels exceeding 55 dB(A);
  • 20% is exposed to levels exceeding 65 dB(A) during the daytime; and
  • more than 30% is exposed to levels exceeding 55 dB(A) at night.”

What does this do to the student trying to concentrate, or the businessman conducting a meeting, or a doctor listening to a patient’s cardiovascular beats?

No one knows for sure, particularly over the long term:

“Only limited international figures are available on the health impact of environmental noise in the European Region. WHO/Europe published preliminary estimates in 2011.”


Any successful salesman will confirm to you that the best way to close a deal with a prospective customer is not to TALK TALK TALK, trying to sell (or over-sell) your product or service, but rather to listen, setting him up to tell you something important to him – listening carefully to what he says and responding appropriately. Then he will be in your power, and you can turn the conversation in the direction of a successful sale.

The power of listening. Extremely important in fields such as medicine, where the doctor has to force himself or herself to shut up and pay close attention to what a patient’s body says (or how they smell – but that’s another topic).

Some people shut out the world of noise, but that can entail its own problems: hearing danger approach can save your life, no?

How many bicyclists and motorcyclists shut out all the noise around them as they zip gaily along? Is that not really dangerous?

In the honest ferocity of a jungle environment both predators and prey have keenly-evolved listening. The predator, laying in wait, listens for the approach of a sweet furry animal; the prey (same sweet furry animal) is listening for any sound that might indicate the danger of a predator. Thus the big ears.

Is it not possible that in a world of jabber jabber jabber, TV, loudspeakers, humans berating us at all hours, that we have forgotten how to listen? Well… consider tuning in.

In our louder and louder world, says sound expert Julian Treasure, “We are losing our listening.” In this short, fascinating talk, Treasure shares five ways to re-tune your ears for conscious listening — to other people and the world around you.

Teach your children to listen. Listen to the world around them. Listen carefully to directions. Cultivate “the art of listening” in a world of noise. And take off those fucking earphones.

Speaking of noise, I SAID SPEAKING OF NOISE! you can enjoy a very jovial merry and extremely noisy environment at Ya Udah Bistro Menteng, where you and your happy guests will roar back and forth to be heard over the badjais whining outside and the mosque roaring down the street. Or if you want to dine on excellent, hygienic and reasonably-priced Euro-food go to our branch in Serpong – we even have a cool and quiet air-conditioned section…

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