Our Earphones are Making us Deaf
My wife will be embarrassed that I shared this with the general public, but at my old gym, I called myself “the Mayor.” My fellow gym members were okay with me having the title though. I earned it.
I worked the room every day, making friends with almost everyone there. But at my new gym, the days of friendliness are over, and it’s not because I’m less friendly. It’s because everyone wears earphones now.
These days, I can’t even make the simplest conversation at the gym, much less friends.
Like the other day, I wanted to use some dumbbells, but I couldn’t tell if this guy was finished with them. Although I asked him twice whether he was finished, he was looking in another direction and had his music up so loud that he couldn’t hear me. I gave up and used a different set.
Then there’s this other guy who’s pretty friendly; but if I want to speak to him, I have to make sure he’s looking in my direction so he can see that I’m talking and turn down his music. I hardly bother anymore – I find it embarrassing to flag down someone in order to speak.
But it’s not like this is only happening in the gym. The other day on the bus, a guy put his card to the card reader, but it didn’t register with the machine. He had earphones on and didn’t hear the beep that indicates you need to tap your card again, and he just kept walking.
“Sir, tap your card again,” said the bus driver politely.
The guy just kept walking. He didn’t even hear the driver, and after a couple more attempts by the driver to get the man’s attention, the driver gave up.
The most painful episode was last Sunday, when I was walking with my daughters through the neighborhood and we heard a guy coming from behind on a little bike.
“Hi!” said my three-year-old, but he didn’t hear her. He had earphones on and wasn’t looking in her direction. She tried again, but he kept riding, and my three-year-old gave up.
My friend Steve West recently wrote,
[M]ost of the time, sad to say, I’m just skimming the surface, hearing disparate transmissions, not really comprehending what’s being said. “Be still, and know that I am God,” He says, and, not only that, I think He means for us to be still and listen to everything, or maybe one thing. . . .
In his memoir, The Sacred Journey, Frederick Buechner exemplifies this. He is doing nothing more than sitting at his desk in his study in Vermont, listening: “On the wall behind me, an old banjo clock was tick-tocking the time away. Outside I could hear the twitter of sparrows as they swooped in and out of the eaves of the barn.” He went on to speak of workmen hammering and talking, of his stomach growling, of a rooster crowing. “They were all of them random sounds without any apparent purpose or meaning, and yet as I paused to listen to them, I found myself with something more than just my ears to the point where they became in some way enormously meaningful.”
I think, as the book bears out, . . . he was hearing the sound of his own life. I might too, if I listen.
When we habitually tune out life around us – with earphones or busyness or absent-mindedness, whatever – we partake in a kind of agitated boredom that leaves us isolated and feeling inordinately central in our world.
Wake up. Listen to your life. Listen to the lives of others. Just listen. If the quiet skies declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), then surely the voices and sounds around us do as well.