Less is More

I recently read about the Mabaan tribe, who live in the southern area of Sudan, near the border with Ethopia. This is an area of extreme quiet, which has led to a remarkable ability of the people to hear on an astonishingly acute level. Reportedly the Mabaan can hear a fellow tribesman whispering from across a wide field.

At the recent temple dedication of the Brigham City Temple, a contrast was explained when talking about church members in New York City. It was explained that with the frenetic sounds of Manhattan, people become accustomed so much, that when they enter the temple, experiencing peace and quiet is striking for them.

At birth, our ears can discern more than 300,000 sounds, but after years of exposure to loud noises, the hair cells on the cochlea flatten and become less sensitive. Our brains process sounds a thousand times faster than images we see, and so noise affects everything from our concentration to our health. Too much noise can raise blood pressure, and even make us sick, hence the word noise originates from the Latin word nausea (scientific insight on the term from parents “I’m sick of your music). Yet positive noise, like uplifting music, can accelerate learning, improve moods, and uplift the mind and spirit. I watch in amazement as my wife teaches children music classes, and how the power of music physically, cognitively, and emotionally transforms kids.

Acoustics are especially interesting for me. After the death of my father when I was four years old, I temporarily lost my hearing. I remember the feelings of confusion in trying to communicate, and the helplessness of others in knowing how to talk to me and treat me.   However, though I lacked auditory senses, I began to discover other senses that had perhaps been precluded by noise. When I did regain my hearing, we moved to a large cattle ranch and I was quickly shown the opposite end of the sound spectrum. Moving large herds of cattle, often numbering over 1000 at a time, generated all kinds of sounds. The cows all begin mooing to find their calves, with calves also mooing to locate their separated mothers. I was taught to yell loudly over the din of the cattle to keep them moving, but also to know the proximity to other cowboys, whose location often couldn’t be seen through the haze of the churned dust or the thickness of brush and trees.   My young lungs weren’t big enough to generate much force, so I had to shout my very loudest at the cattle. I thought the force made a difference in getting them going, though looking back I’m sure they felt more amusement than fear.

Because of the habit of yelling at cows all day, often cowboy communication continued in the same decibel ranges in human interactions. I was confused to have teachers in school call me by the last name of Peterson, but have that transformed somehow on the ranch to other names that were less respectful. Perhaps it was good preparation for sports, where the force, terminology, and lingo were strikingly similar.

Often it was explained to me that swearing and yelling were acceptable when working with animals because “it’s the only language they understand.” In sports, in order to communicate over distances and the noises of the crowd, yelling and swear words seemed to emphasize certain points. However, I always hated them for the force with which they were used, and the ugly contempt that they carried. I heard the quote at a very young age that “swearing is the weak attempt of a feeble mind to express itself forcefully.” It resonated with me, and I’ve found by avoiding swearing, my communication is much more clear and clean.

However, I haven’t avoided yelling as well as I’ve avoided swearing. Now those who know me may be shocked to hear that, I’m not a loud person generally and seldom yell. However, when working with animals or sports, I’ve felt the tendency to do so and occasionally stretched out my cowboy lungs (though on a deeper note now). As I learn and grow though, I’ve found the Mabaan secret, that less is more. The less I speak and yell, the more I am heard. Remarkably with that lesson, the less I speak and yell, the more I feel and sense. A gentle conversation with one of my kids or players often results in a clarifying question, as opposed to a heightened look of fear or confusion if I yell the same point. I’m sure it’s what people in the New York Temple experience when they remove the auditory chaos, that their spiritual senses are allowed to be heard.

Looking back, in the confusion and noise of cattle drives, I could still hear from among the herd a calf that had been hurt, or was separated from the rest. I could sense from an ear movement or the change of pace of my horse when something was wrong, perhaps a snake, a hole, or another danger. We all have capabilities to decipher other senses in our lives, regardless of the noise. But I’m learning the biggest noise that impairs my other senses, is the noise I make myself. By being a little less loud, a little more clear, and never coarse in my language, I realize I am opening my senses, and helping others to hear more by hearing less of me.

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