Get Off My Lawn: The sounds of silence have much to tell us

Get Off My Lawn: The sounds of silence have much to tell us

I had a friend in college named Doug. He was a philosophy major so, as college students are wont to do, he would sometimes interrupt a rather mundane dining hall discussion by flexing his philosophical muscles with a non sequitur of dubious merit.

And thus it came to be that he told me one day that he believed that God — among the other gifts He’d bestowed upon us mere mortals — gave each of us a finite number of words to use during our lifetime.

Reach your magic number … and, well, Doug believed that was that. At first, I thought this was one of those face-palm axioms in the vein of, “You’ll find a missing item in the last place you look for it.”

I have come to realize, however, that he was just trying to tell me to shut up.

(By the way, if Doug’s theory sounds like the flimsy plot to a cheesy Eddie Murphy movie, you’re right — but I checked, and Doug was not found to be among the credits of those behind the 2012 flop “A Thousand Words.”)

I thought of Doug this week because it’s apparent that we are heading into a societal stretch where people — particularly prominent, political, partisan people — are not going to stop talking anytime soon.

Democrats are particularly good at talking; whether they’re actually saying anything always has been the question.

Locally, the local donkeys are braying about whether this or that candidate for the state Senate did or did not receive help from the county Democratic committee in the lead-up to the primary.

Nationally, the Democratic Party has proven even less patient than the president about progress in the investigation into Russian influence in our electile dysfunction and has sued the parties they believe to be conspirators.

What either case signifies beyond sound and fury might not matter; these days, just registering sound and fury seems to move the indignation needle all the way to 11 — no matter if the constant noise is more or less annoying and/or more or less believable than your average cable news talking hairdo.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the political dial … ‘nuff said.

Noise for the sake of noise doesn’t do anyone any good. Medical studies have shown that all the discordant discontent around us has only added to environmental factors attacking our well-being.

The American College of Cardiology, in its most recent journal, opines that not only do our stress hormones, heart rates and blood pressures spike as we navigate the jarring sounds and constant din around us — but the cumulative effect leads to lasting health problems.

And, as only humans are capable of doing, we’re dragging others down with us.

Speaking of screaming tweets, consider one of the sweetest sounds in nature … the song of the nightingale.

A recent study of the birds has found that male nightingales now have to sing roughly 10 decibels louder (the equivalent of a singing-competition contestant bellowing “Take Me To Church”) in order to mark its territory.

Because the nightingale’s song gets swallowed up by the surround-sound of the man-made theater, its territory has been found to decrease … which leads to less ground to cover for food for its young and, eventually, fewer nightingales.

We’ve known for years that talking to plants can help them grow (unless you leave them in front of a TV showing any cable news network). Now there’s scientific evidence that the opposite can be true.

Scrub jays like the seeds dropped from the blooms of Colorado pinyon trees. The jays eat some and bury others for later. If they forget where the seeds are (obviously not found in the last place they looked), the seeds sprout and new pinyons emerge.

But recent research shows that scrub jays also have sensitive ears; therefore, if the trees are in a noisy area, the seeds are more likely to be confiscated by noise-resistant creatures such as mice ... who’ll just eat them immediately, thereby cutting back on the number of eventual pinyon trees — and increasing the amount of mouse turds.

Not to go full Yogi Berra here, but our lives are filled with so much noise these days that we don’t hear it anymore. Eventually (if we’re lucky), we’ll start tuning out the harsh sounds coming from the mouths of those who seek to berate us into submission.

Speaking of which, so to speak, perhaps we should be careful what we wish for ... if there’s something insidious to be learned by the success of the current hit horror movie “A Quiet Place” — which imagines a world where even the slightest noise could summon blind monsters with ill intentions.

Theater audiences have gone silent during showings, hushing those around them as the central cinematic family perseveres in peril.

On the one hand, people are just drawn into what used to be called a “spine-tingler.” On the other, though, the film might be tapping into a spot in our collective nervous-system that senses the fear of having our own nuclear families consumed by the forces around us that seem impossible to eradicate — and so we empathize with those without a voice.

Unlike those in “A Quiet Place,” however, our modern-day monsters seemingly can reach through our screens. In fact, they seem to thrive on that source of power … and appear immune to my old friend Doug’s theory about word limits.

Mail Tribune senior designer Robert Galvin can be told to shut up at

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