Please, lend me your ears!

by Henrylito D. Tacio

“When I first moved to Asia 15 years ago, one thing that immediately struck me was how horrendously loud it was in public spaces. From traffic and construction noise to music blaring from tiny shops, there was no respite. But then I thought, maybe it’s just me, no-one else seems to mind.”

That observation came from the pen of Jim Plouffe, my former editor and now editor-in-chief of the Asian edition of ‘Reader’s Digest.’ From his base in Sydney, Australia, he was transferred to Singapore, where he moves from one Asian country to another.

Just recently, his observation has been confirmed. “Almost every location we tested (in Asia) registered noise levels that were well above what the World Health Organization considers the safe limit of 70 decibels (dBA) – and some places were loud enough to cause severe hearing and other health problems after just a few minutes,” wrote Nicole Wraight, who was commissioned by the publication to assess the extent of the region’s noise epidemic.

Dr. Goh Yau Hong, an Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon at the Mount Elizabeth Medical Center in Singapore was quoted as saying, “This constant noise will cause an explosion in the number of cases of hearing impairment in the next ten to twenty years.”

How loud are the noises you hear everyday? Students exchanging secrets with each other do so at 30 dBA. Traffic noise levels begin at 85 dBA while rock concerts go to 120 dBA. A plane taking off hits a noise level of 140 dBA.

Prolonged exposure (usually defined as being over 15 consecutive minutes) to anything over 120 dBA in volume is enough to damage the hair cells in the ears, though we don’t feel any pain till the volume exceeds 140 dBA.

“Past the bones of the middle ear (the smallest bones in the human body) are thousands of hair cells,” explains Massie K. Santos in her article, ‘The Cost of Living Too Loud,’ which appeared in a national daily. “When the bones in the middle ear vibrate due to sound, the hair cells pick up the movements and convert them into electrical impulses that nerves send to the brain for processing and identification. The hair cells are extremely resilient; however, they can be damaged and unfortunately, like brain cells, hair cells are never replaced when they die.”

Noise brings us to the subject of talking. And people like to talk about anything under the heat of the sun. As one observes, “Waiting for some people to stop talking is like looking for the end of a roller towel.” Two which Sydney Harris adds, “It’s a toss-up as to which are finally the most exasperating – the dull people who never talk, or the bright people who never listen.”

If you think talking is hard, try listening. A housing expert took a trip into the Scandinavian Peninsula to make speeches on better housing for the Laplanders. The hour for the lecture came, and while a huge crowd of villagers gathered outside the hall, no one went inside. The lecturer stepped to the door and invited them to come in. He assured them that the admission was free.

Still, there was a lot of mumbling and whispering but no one went in. Bewildered, the speaker called over a bright-looking fellow and asked him what the trouble was. “Before they come in, the people want to know how much you will pay them for listening.”

“What! Pay them to hear me lecture!” the speaker exclaimed. “Oh, sure thing,” the young man replied. “Anybody can talk, talk, talk, talk. But to listen a long time is hard. Now, how much do you pay?”

Successful people I have encountered know when to talk and when to listen. A group of applicants in a steamship office were waiting to be interviewed for a job as wireless operator. The room was filled with such a buzz of conversation that they paid no attention to the dots and dashes which began coming over the loudspeaker. Then in came a newcomer who sat down quietly by himself. Suddenly, he snapped to attention, walked into the private office and came out smiling.

“Say,” one of the crowd called out, “how’d you get in ahead of us? We were here first.” The stranger replied, “One of you would have got the job if you had listened to the message from the loudspeaker.”

“What message?” they chorused, surprised. “Why, the code,” the stranger said. “It said: ‘The man I want must always be alert. The first man who gets this message and comes into my office will be placed on one of my ships as radio operator.”

In today’s world where people forget how to be civil, it’s time to listen! We need to learn to listen to each other in order to make the world a better place to be. Listening accounts for more than half of the communication activity in the workplace. And like talking, listening plays a significant role in our personal and social lives as well.

One early Saturday morning, a police officer stopped a motorist who was speeding down the busy street. “But officer,” the man began, “I can explain…” The officer snapped, “Just be quiet. I’m going to let you cool your heels in jail until the chief gets back.”

“But, officer, I just wanted to say…,” the man begged. The officer again stopped him from talking: “I said to keep quiet! You’re going to jail!”

A few hours later, the officer looked in on his prisoner and said, “Lucky for you that the chief’s at his daughter’s wedding. He’ll be in a good mood when he gets back.” The fellow in the cell replied, “Don’t count on it. I’m the groom.”

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak,” said Epictetus.

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