I was brought up in one of the world’s craziest cities, Moscow, and live in London, another quite intense megalopolis. I enjoy things happening around me, but also need my moments of silence to restore myself, think deeply and be creative. But nowadays, finding silence has become an incredible luxury only available to the most well-off individuals, unless you choose to move out of the city and not do any corporate job.
Have you ever wondered why the most prestigious areas in the city are usually the quietest? Why executive business lounges in the airports have no bright screens/ads/loud music/shouting announcement (very different from normal waiting areas)? Why in the top fashion boutiques and high-end restaurants they play a very low-volume pleasing music, if any? Why is silence valued so high?
Having no excessive stimulation allows our brain to process information we’ve got already, think deeper, and as a result, be creative. Creativity and conscious decision-making requires space in your head. You can’t be creative if you are constantly distracted, because our brains aren’t wired to multitask. You also need silence to better understand yourself, otherwise you stop making conscious choices. Yet, unless you have lots of money, you are condemned to daily distractions, which are presented as something completely normal, and those who say it’s not, get publicly (or silently) shamed.
I spent my worst years working in the open space offices – with hundreds of people talking, walking around, listening to music etc., not to mention multiple computer screens that kept causing me severe headaches. How can you possibly expect someone working in such atmosphere to be able to concentrate and come up with amazing work. Our natural rhythms vary between solitude and collaboration, but most work environments don't support that. It has been proven by multiple research that pure open space ruins productivity, and yet, if you speak up and say you need silence, you’ll be seen as “difficult” or unsociable.
I left the corporate world mainly because I was made to work in an environment that didn’t work for me, and I was quite a highly-paid specialist. Now I know now that there was nothing wrong with me and I was not "picky" or "difficult" - I just belong to 20% of humans who are highly sensitive – perceiving the world much stronger, brighter and noisier than the rest, and there’s nothing wrong with me (high sensitivity is not a medical condition, but a different gene, like blue or brown eyes). But why is there public shaming around sticking to your natural rhythms?
Another personal “favourite” of mine are fitness classes, where instructors switch on the music so loud, as if we were in a rock concert. I get it that they want to encourage participants, but why put that on a level that makes ears hurt? And most importantly, why is it that people in these classes are embarrassed to ask to put the volume down (it turns out, many feel uncomfortable with it, but don’t say anything unless I ask)? Gyms lost me as a client, because when I go there, I don’t have a choice not only of a music, but also of the volume I need to listen it to.
A right for everyone
Today we are constantly challenged to perform our best, while living in the environment that absolutely doesn't support, or rather, undermines that peak performance. Today I have the luxury to manage my own noise and stimulation level, because I am self-employed, but many people don’t. In fact, there are whole countries where this stimulation is excessive – China being one of them.
Silence and the ability to choose the level of stimulation a person wants/can handle should be the natural right of everyone, and not just the privilege of rich people. All it takes is a recognition that we might be different, and creating an environment that supports that shouldn't be that difficult. Technology is here to support, too– silent disco is a great example of what’s possible, when this recognition happens. Or perhaps fitness instructors could use a decibel measuring app to test the volume.
Do you find excessive noise or sound a problem?
You might, too, be a highly sensitive person!