by Daniel Brenton

October 22, 2006

I am going to restrain myself from making this into a rant.

I am really going to try.

Have you ever lived in an apartment? Odds are you had neighbors that have blasted you with music, shouting, banging and thumping (and so on) regardless of the hour, and if you’re lucky after a pitched battle invoking the apartment management (and when practical the police) you’ve gotten them to back down, or leave.

Usually, I haven’t been lucky.

If you own a house and have neighbors like I’m describing here, you’ve probably got fewer options.

And of course, there’s “boom cars” — cars or trucks with new high-tech sound systems that can annoy at one hundred yards, prevent thinking at fifty, and loosen your fillings at twenty.

And don’t get me started about dogs.

Now, if you’re one of those noisy people I’m talking about, just give me a minute here, and then if you want you can tell me to stick it.

(See? I’m not ranting.)

I’m not talking about noise pollution. I’m not talking about health effects. I’m not talking about people endangering themselves or others by making it impossible to hear approaching emergency vehicles.

What I’m talking about is common courtesy.

Here we are living in this growingly Politically Correct society, where it has become improper to speak only in the male pronoun, to exclude groups of different race, religion, or sexual orientation, and to smoke outside of areas designated for the culturally disenfranchised.

But it is still acceptable to annoy or even assault others with sound pressure levels determined to cause physical harm.

This is wrong.

I’ve had some spirited discussion on this subject with a friend of mine. He is an immigrant, and gained his citizenship about three years ago. When I fired up this subject, one of his first reactions was something to the effect that Americans revel in individual expression and the freedom to do so; that in other countries every little aspect of a person’s life is controlled by the culture.

He told me this wasn’t wrong, that it was rude — just rude.

(I think he was telling me I should just live with it.)

Sorry, no. This is not just rude.

This discussion did however make me pause to reflect.

I am more sensitive about this subject than most people I think, partly because I personally have a hard time selectively tuning out noise. Maybe it’s just the way I’m wired, maybe (and I’m only sort of joking here) it’s due to some deep-seated personal trauma.

And partly it’s due to being imaginative enough that I can see some of the ramifications of the behavior.

Let’s say I’ve got a dog that barks long hours at nothing, and I don’t control it. That means I either don’t have the reflective ability to see that this may be intruding into the lives of my neighbors, or I actually approve of the dog annoying my neighbors.

(No, Daniel, it means you hate dogs.)

(Oh, stick it.)

Let’s say I have a boom car stereo and I fire it up at five in the morning when I leave for work. This means I don’t care about waking my neighbors up out of a sound sleep for no justifiable reason.

Let’s say one morning my boom music sets off a car alarm in the neighbor’s car next to mine. Assuming I hear it over my own blasting music, maybe I think it’s the other person’s fault for having their car alarm set so sensitively.

The second time it happens it could very well mean I still can’t hear it, or that I think it’s funny.

Of course, the first time I do this means I’m a jerk. The second time means I may have other severe character defects.

The tenth time I do this means I should go to jail.

The bottom line is that there shouldn’t be a second time, let alone a first. My experience of these personalities is that there is no point in reasoning with them. I have had to use either the force of apartment complex policy or the Law to deal with them.

This is the truly sad part of this. There have always been those who don’t acknowledge or were never taught the common courtesy of respecting other people’s space, but my sense is that this group is rapidly becoming the majority. The fact that we as a society have to create legislation and invoke Executive powers to force what is obvious considerate behavior is utterly absurd.

I will suggest that the basic willingness of most of us to get along and turn the other cheek in the face of this kind of behavior is being used against us, sometimes consciously and with great skill.

I can see give and take, but I refuse to give and give and give. I can forgive the behavior, but I will not tolerate it.

The question really is: what am I going to do about it?

At very least, I can make you aware of the problem and what resources are out there to address it.

The most visible group in this fight is called Noise Free America ( Ted Rueter, the driving force behind the organization, has become the de facto spokesman for Americans that want to see change in this arena. The organization has chapters in several states, and is taken seriously enough by the National Institute of Health’s journal Environmental Health Perspectives to be cited in the January 2005 issue, in Ron Chepesiuk’s article, “Decibel Hell: The Effects of Living in a Noisy World.”

I am impressed enough with Noise Free America that I support the organization. Unfortunately, I personally don’t have the time or resources to start a chapter here in southern Nevada, because I know full well what this would entail. It would mean sacrificing all my non-work time, currying favor, finding leverage, forming a political action committee, and endless leading, coaching, and networking.

But I would participate in one, no doubt.

Is there anyone out here, Ted?