Monday Mornings with Madison

The Blessing of Hearing and Power of Sound

In listening to the news, one might get the impression that the world is a terrible place.  Global warming.  Rampant pollution.  Persistent wars.  Growing income inequality.  Epidemic diseases.  Gun violence.  Discrimination.  Religious intolerance.  We hear constantly about so many problems in the world.  The thought of all these problems might make some wonder – especially at this is the time of year when most people stop to reflect and give thanks – just what is there to be thankful for?

There is always – always — something for which to give thanks.  Loving family.  Deep faith.  A solid job.   Liberty and freedom.  Good friends.  Kind colleagues. Even those who aren’t blessed with a good job, supportive family or friends, still have so much for which they can be genuinely thankful… if they just look a little deeper.  Consider the basic things that are often taken for granted.  The gift of hearing.  The blessing of sight.  The delight of being able to smell.  The present of being able to speak.   The pleasure of being taking deep breaths of clean air.  The ability to walk.  The good fortune of health.   Each of these gifts makes life richer, fuller and easier.  What would life be like without just one of these gifts?  What if you could not hear?  Could you do your job?  Could you have the life you have?

Hearing and Sound

The ability to hear is a great blessing.  The ability to hear is critical to understanding the world..  The human ear is a fully developed part of the body at birth and responds to sounds that are very faint as well as sounds that are very loud. Even before birth, infants respond to sound.  Much of what makes a person “human” is social contact; interaction with other human beings. Hearing allows people to communicate with one another.  But the ability to hear sound is more than that.  It is also essential to overall health, allowing people to recognize approaching danger that may not be visible.  And it is necessary in order to enjoy such things as music, birds chirping, rushing water, rainfall and other sounds that sooth, lift, and enhance the soul.

So what are sounds?  Sounds, in their simplest form, are waves or vibrations that ripple through the air and provide people with one of the most effective and vital ways we have of communicating with the nervous systems of other creatures and other people. The nervous system controls the body as it receives information from the brain, essentially telling separate parts of the body how to react in a given situation. For example, when you hear the sound of an alarm, your whole body reacts in seconds to a perceived threat. A variation of this same sound can send a signal to the brain that makes you feel excited.  Everything in existence vibrates, and so we are surrounded by sound all the time.

Hearing Loss

Given the importance of sounds and hearing, what happens if a person cannot hear?  When people can’t hear what is being said, they can become anxious and even paranoid, suspecting others of talking about them behind their backs or saying things others don’t want them to hear. Anger, embarrassment and a loss of self-esteem are common emotional problems that arise from hearing loss.  Moreover, people who become hearing-impaired later in life often experience cognitive impairment, such as confusion, difficulty focusing and distracting thoughts.  They often also have an inability to think straight and difficulty making decisions.  In fact, studies have found a link between hearing loss and increased risk of dementia, believed to be caused by the diminished cognitive input among those with untreated hearing loss.

Untreated hearing loss can have physical consequences as well, including excessive fatigue, stress and headaches, which may result from trying so hard to hear and understand spoken language. Common activities such as driving or going for a walk become dangerous for the person who cannot hear.  In fact, moderate to severe hearing loss has been associated with a 54% increased risk of death, and mild hearing loss with a 27% increased risk of death, compared with individuals with normal hearing.  Without the ability to hear, most people would not be able to have the jobs or careers they have.

The Power of Sound

Sounds are so powerful that they are believed to affect a person even when the person cannot hear the sounds.  How so? One of the most amazing experiments on the power of sound was conducted by Dr. Masaru Emoto, a graduate of the Yokohama Municipal University’s Department of Humanities and Sciences and author of the bestselling book, Messages from Water.  Dr. Emoto gained acclaim for discovering that vibrating sounds affects water in surprising ways.

In his experiments, Dr. Emoto analyzed the formation of differently shaped crystals in water as it was exposed to different sounds in different forms. Sounds he used included verbal affirmations, thoughts, music, and even prayers. He focused on verbal affirmations of love and gratitude as they were directed toward water sitting in a Petri dish. He then analyzed the water (as it froze) under a microscope and took before and after pictures to document the change. He observed the formation of beautiful crystals in the frozen water samples where positive vibrational sounds were directed. Dr. Emoto then exposed water samples to music from Mozart, Beethoven, and other classical composers.  Beautiful crystal shapes formed in these samples as well.  Later, negative statements were directed toward petri dishes of water. People said things like “you fool,” “I will hurt you,” and other unpleasant phrases using a harsh tone. In those cases, ugly, incomplete, and malformed crystals formed in the freezing water samples exposed to negative expressions and tones.

Why is the effect of sound on water important to people?  Dr. Emoto concluded that any sound is vibration, and vibrations — such as music and other positive sounds including the human voice — can be healing. Indeed, in other studies, music has been found to ease pain after surgery.  Given that vibrations travel via water and air and that the human body is approximately 65% water, clearly sound can affect the human body, even when the body cannot hear those sounds audibly.

Hearing is Vital Even to Animals

Even many animals rely on sound to communicate.  Hearing in these species is particularly important for survival and reproduction. In species that use sound as a primary means of communication, hearing is typically most acute for the range of pitches produced in calls and speech.  Barking, growling, hissing and purring all are considered animal auditory communication. Whales sing and communicate great distances making sounds that are often drowned out by machines and human noise.  Sounds can be used to attract mates, ward off threats and express happiness or pain. 
For example, dogs bark when approached by a stranger. Red squirrels use a series of rattles, screeches and yips to warn intruders to stay away. And dolphins use auditory communication to set themselves apart from others — a unique whistle that also helps them locate food.

Hearing is indeed a tremendous gift and blessing to most living things, but especially to people.  If nothing else, the ability to hear is reason enough to be grateful.  It helps one enjoy and make the most of all of life’s other blessings and gifts.  And that should be music to everyone’s ears.

Quote of the Week

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” Ralph G Nichols


© 2015, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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