I went to see a play the other night. It doesn’t matter what play, really—I mention it only because of what was primarily wrong with it: I could not hear the actors’ lines as well as I ought–I estimate I missed 30% of the play’s dialogue.
This was not because the acoustics in the theater were bad—far from it. It wasn’t because I was at the back of the house: I was in row J. The problem wasn’t the actors’ ability to project—or not the main problem, anyway. No, the real issue was that the director had chosen to have ambient sound effects (street noises, music, wind, etc.) playing continually under almost every scene. The resulting background noise, which was supposed to define and enhance the scenes, became like the annoying buzz of an insect which you can’t kill, a faucet drip you can’t fix, a clock you can’t stop from ticking.
How often do we miss important messages in other realms of life, because of annoying, distracting or obscuring noise? Competing demonstrations have been known to try to drown each other out. We’ve read recently some writers who theorize that certain political topics (Syria, for one) are deliberately amplified and spotlighted in order to keep our attention away from the real show, which is going on in a dark corner somewhere.
But sometimes, we are our own noisemakers. When it comes to hearing what’s really important, how often do we make a space of quiet and stillness so that we have the right conditions in which to listen intently?