Shushing the Shush

Jaime Coyne

I would like to have a stern talk with the first person who shushed someone. Seriously. Whenever the noise level is higher than we would like it to be or think it should be, our immediate instinct is to shush. How much sense does that make? In evolution, that trait would quickly die out. Shushing just creates more noise, obnoxiously so. In fact, shushing is often contagious, rapidly creating a wave of shushing that elevates ‘loudness’ to ‘noise pollution’. It is quite early in life that we stop going respectively dead silent at the sound of a shush, and instead roll our eyes at the hypocrite being so annoyingly noisy.

So the question remains. Why do we do it? After quickly learning to abhor the sound, why do we continue to shush noisy people at every opportunity? I think it harkens back to our inability to listen to one another. Whether we realize what we are doing or not, it is much easier to create our own version of white noise to drown out the words of other people, than to hear them out. If we stopped to listen, we might realize that the initial shusher is actually trying to quiet us, and fall silent instead of joining in the incessant shushing. Have you ever paid close enough attention to grasp that all speaking has stopped, and it has been entirely replaced by everyone shushing each other?

If communication is so key to life and society, why don’t we ever use it? We all want to be heard, but God forbid someone requires us to listen for half a minute! We could possibly learn a lot from each other. But how would we ever know? In general, we say we are shushing others so that someone or something can be heard by everyone present, or perhaps even so we can all acknowledge the sound of a solemn silence. But, inevitably, we actually block everyone else out by shushing them. Do we create an entirely new species of language barrier if we never allow anyone’s voice but our own to be heard?

Growing up in a family entirely hard-of-hearing, I know what it is like to literally not be heard. At times, in life, it is simply unavoidable. But there is a distinct difference between getting the blank stare of ‘I wish I knew what you just said’, and receiving the ‘Mmhm…’ of complete indifference. Instead of becoming annoyed at this response, maybe we should stop and think. How likely is it that we recently did the same thing to our supposed listener? Is it fair to get angry, or is that just as hypocritical as shushing someone? If we stop and listen in our conversations, if we truly contribute to our discussions, if we show care and concern about our companions, maybe we will discover that we are suddenly equally reaching others with our own words. Life is a bumpy road, but if we pay attention to the road signs and the warnings of our passengers, chances are we will make it out okay, perhaps a little worse for the wear, but all the better for the experience. Keep shushing your passengers and – well, there’s a ditch somewhere along this road with your name on it.