The art of sound



Quiet is a beautiful wisp of smoke floating far away, unbound and unfound.

There’s always some mechanical hum buzzing, some music softly harmonizing, some conversation rolling. This mundane babble clouds around my head, clinging to it desperately. Try as I might, my head is stuck in these pulsing electric clouds, and my brain has just been short-wired. 

The noise is overwhelming — the noise in my head, the noise all around me. My head is always busy; my thoughts take off like jet planes. I think I’ve missed my connecting flight. 

When was the last time I experienced true silence? Have I ever?

The silence is intrusive. It forces you to formulate your own thoughts, look inwards, discover outwardly. It makes people nervous. Every anxiety-driven rustle makes an abrasive noise. Words come spilling out to fill the black expanse of quiet. 

I am drowning in words; conversations pile up, submerge me. When I’m surrounded by others, my thoughts are crowded out, pushed aside. Their words fill my mind; my words fight for their place. 

At some point, the meaningful and meaningless things others say just became words for me to respond to. Rather than intently listening out of genuine interest, my busy head listened for things it could respond to, thought about the ways it could respond. 

And I know I’m not the only one who has gone through this. 

Hearing and listening are two completely different things. Listening is an art, and just as some art goes out of style, so too is listening growing old. Active listening is a skill that is no longer cultivated, but has yet to become obsolete. 

Active listening doesn’t mean just responding to what people say. In fact, responding is doing the bare minimum. Active listening is connecting emotionally and sending nonverbal signals to show that you are interested and care. 

We need to trade glazed eyes and mindless nodding for eye contact and minimal verbal encouragements. By merely saying “Oh?” or “Really?” you can show that you are engaged without completely interrupting the conversation. More importantly, they keep you from shifting the focus back to yourself.

The main reason listening is going extinct is that the majority of people would prefer to be the one talking, to be the one everyone is looking at. The desire to talk derives from the selfish need to be the center of attention. However, a friendly conversation turns into a raging battle of toxicity when the goal is to get the most words in. 

Are you actually having a conversation if your words and phrases swim in your own mind? The crash of their turbulent waves drown out what anyone is saying to you. Nobody is actually listening or focusing on any one person in a conversation. Instead, each person turns inward to rehearse their own words, craft their own response.

With the loss of interpersonal skills comes our demise. 

We can’t devote ourselves to what others are saying, and yet, we can’t stand to not say anything at all. By becoming preoccupied with ourselves, we lose who we are. Give your time to someone else, and you might learn something about them. Give your time to the nothingness of silence, and you might learn something about yourself.