Noise can be soothing


WE ASSOCIATE SILENCE with calm and contentment. But can noise also be just as soothing?

Noises are the vital signs of life. At a party, rowdy laughter, loud conversations, or sudden breaking into song (You’ve lost that loving feeling) indicate delight in each other’s company. What can be more worrying for a host than a party where the only noise is the buzzing of mosquitoes, the shifting of chairs, and the mastication of food? (How’s the chicken-rice?)

The previous administration ratcheted up the level of noise with late night threats, curses, and obscenities, accompanied by sign language using the dirty finger for televised addresses. The informal “state of the nation” routine occurred with announcements of alert levels and their accompanying lockdown status. This was awaited with fortnightly dread — senior citizens and children will be imprisoned.

Political noise is not limited to those in power attacking their critics. The uproar now includes those back in power attacking their favorite media target and fulminating against a possible revitalization — we’ll make sure you stay dead and buried. The other side of this noise are critics pushing back just as raucously.

Social media has been at the forefront of the noise barrage. Critics or their targets are not always mentioned by name. They can be color-coded, yellow being a common object of bile. And pink has somehow quieted down and blended with the wallpaper. There seems to be a truce in terms of noise-making.

In competitive sports like college basketball, part of the enjoyment of the game is the noise level which is just as competitive as the game on the floor. The cheers are formulaic (get that ball) and can get louder as the game heats up. No longer fashionable, as they were in the 1960s, are the parking lot taunts and car-bashing.

Being noisy is a healthy coping mechanism for stress. Anyone teetering on the verge of road rage understands that shouting and screaming at an offending motorcyclist who cuts one or drives towards him in a counterflow are harmless, when done inside the privacy of the car with the windows closed. Taking action like cutting across the offender’s vehicle and brandishing a weapon with threats can have dire results. Letting off steam noisily and privately is an acceptable substitute for threatened violence.

Coffee shop discourse (kapihan) on the state of the nation does not really distract from the enjoyment of a debate. The multi-tasking Filipino can sound off and then attend face-to-face meetings with the same adversaries in a corporate setting. Noisy exchanges improve the quality of thinking and conversational acumen. (We can agree to disagree.)

Is political noise no longer noticeable like airplane takeoffs and landings for people living beside the airport? The economy no longer seems to require silence or a chorus of voices singing praises to carry on with its recovery process.

Noise has become acoustic wallpaper that we are getting accustomed to, like soothing sounds of crickets and swaying bamboos in the wind at the dentist’s office. Of course, the drilling of a cavity can be both noisy and painful, but it gets the job done.

Do dissenting voices and the organized trolls that attack them signal volatility that turns off investors? Noise can be irritating only when it persists in its strident tone and embraces a single fixation. A low hum of conflicting ideas is manageable. It helps if the topics of controversy change now and then.

Voices which are raised to promote a healthy business environment and welcome investments can be enhanced. The law of relevance still applies. A legislative determination to oppose progress and oppose business forces getting together to be stronger should be loudly pushed back.

The re-entry of a big media player that had a discarded frequency land on its lap is still a good sign of free expression. Even when a media company is part of the halleluiah chorus, it still makes noise that can be soothing.

What can be more invigorating than the noise of lively discussion and the cheer of a common purpose? Silence after all doesn’t always mean acceptance. Sometimes it reflects fear of being caught on the wrong side of a debate.

Let freedom ring… and make its soothing noise.

Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda

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