I was sitting on our patio, sipping iced coffee and reading my new library book when the sound of barking and howling erupted down the street.
Just moments before, I was breathing the warm summer air and thinking about how much I love living in such a quiet and peaceful place.
The barking always starts out low and slow but quickly elevates to a distant roar, lasting several minutes before fading back into silence.
This happens several times a day. The neighbors’ dogs.
That’s right. Dogs. Plural. Our neighbors to the south run some kind of kennel operation.
We didn’t know about this until after we moved here – not that it would have mattered in our decision to buy the house, but still, a warning would’ve been nice. By the way, the neighbors have 30 barking dogs, so if you like it quiet, you’ll have to keep the windows shut.
One night after we moved in, we were asleep with our bedroom window open when a dull roar rousted us awake. Those damn dogs. I sat up in bed. Matt was already heading for the open window. The muffled sound continued as he flipped the lock.
I flew into a rant, saying a bunch of super intelligent things angry people say at 3:00am. I eventually got back to sleep, but not before vowing to lodge some sort of complaint with some sort of authority.
During that first summer the noise did bother me, especially when it interrupted peaceful moments of my day. But over time I stopped reacting to it until I eventually stopped noticing it and now after four years in this house, it’s barely an afterthought.
Still, sometimes I wonder what might have happened if I chose to stay angry. What if I stewed about it until the sound grew louder and more disruptive each day? Suppose I assumed our noisy neighbors are horrible people with no regard for others. Suppose I decided that it was not only my right but my responsibility to put a stop to all the racket.
If I continued stewing, I could eventually become a bitter neighbor determined to show them the errors of their noisy ways.
Shame on them for robbing me of my peaceful life!
I might even become so relentless in my battle for silence that I would wage an all-out war. I could tape anonymous, threatening notes to their door and start a Loud Dog Haters Facebook page. Standing on my patio with a bull horn, I could rally the other neighbors–filling their heads with shouts about their rights to life and peace and freedom from barking. Then we’d march over there and demand the closure of their joy-killing, sanity-robbing operation.
But of course, I’d only be doing it because I just want the noise to stop. And if you asked me to consider my contributions to the unrest, I would meet you with a finger pointing due south. Because it’s them. All them!
But what if I decided instead to keep the drama at bay? What if I turned my efforts inward? What if I decided that making more noise isn’t the answer at all?
Suppose I choose to be the quiet neighbor who knows I’m no more entitled to my ways than they are to theirs? The neighbor who refuses to label them or presume to know their intentions. The neighbor who rings their doorbell, starts a civil conversation, and learns that there’s more to them than their barking dogs. A neighbor who knows that it’s not worth waging a war against a little bit of noise. In fact, the more I ignore it, the less I hear it – until one day I hardly notice it anymore.
What if I become the neighbor who chooses a quiet response? Because if I cannot stop the noise, at least I will not contribute to it.
I try to remember this when others ruffle my feathers, especially if the ruffling is unintentional. We live in a noisy world. If we dwell on every noise that bothers us, the sound will begin to seem louder and more disruptive each day.
As we feed our anger, those noises will begin to rob us of our peace, our joy, and our sanity. Eventually, it becomes nearly impossible to see the noise makers as anything other than horrible people with evil intentions. Then we might grow bitter enough to start lashing out – maybe even wage an all-out war.
But of course, we’d only be doing it because we’re just standing up for what is clearly right. Because we just want the noise to stop.
And if anyone asked us to consider our own contribution to the unrest, we would meet them with a finger pointing straight to the other side. Because it’s them. All them!
What if more of us turned our efforts inward? What if we found loving, constructive, graceful ways to respond to the offensive noise in our lives? Could we stop giving outrage such a big platform?
Because, despite what the world – and the increasingly noisy media – would have us believe, a peaceful approach is not a weaker approach. A quiet response is not a losing response.
That’s not to say there aren’t battles worth fighting and causes worth supporting and evil worth addressing. But there’s also power in discernment and the ability to step back before we react. How often do we ask ourselves, in the grand scheme of life, does this issue truly matter? What makes me so certain I am right? Is it possible that there’s more to these people and their story?
And if it turns out that we’re not so certain after all, maybe we could do a whole lot more good if we turn our efforts inward; close our windows and focus on internal peace over external quiet; recognize that a quiet response is a winning response; resolve that the last thing the world needs is
louder, more incessant noise.
Because we will never be able to stop it.
But we can always refuse to contribute to it.