Life, liberty, and the pursuit of silence

We were at the beach enjoying a Thursday lunch picnic. The weather was perfect. Sunshine. Blue sky. Gentle breeze. We had made camp on the sand under the shade of the pine trees. We had feasted on egg filled tortillas, fresh cut vegetables and fruits. Our tummy full, we had lied down for a short rest, serenaded by the melody of the waves splashing in and out. Bliss.

We had closed our eyes only a few minutes when our peace (and that of everyone else around us) was disturbed. As we looked around, we saw that, just a few beach towels down from us, two people had decided that their desire to enjoy pop music trumped everyone else’s freedom for quiet and rest. Their phone was proudly propped up in front of them, their bluetooth speaker in between them and 80’s rock blasted loud enough for all to hear.

My husband went over and asked them nicely to lower the volume. The female gave him dirty looks while the male (who was also smoking a cigarette-illegal on all public beaches in Hawaii) complied and lowered the sound, only to increase it again as soon as my husband turned away. (It’s interesting to point out that they appeared to be well over 50 years old; clearly aging and wisdom do not come as a package deal).

We grabbed all of our stuff, moved farther away and resumed our enjoyment of this perfectly fine afternoon but I’ve been thinking about it since, trying to figure out what I should do not IF but WHEN this happens again.
If it had been a rare occurrence, I would have already put it out of my mind. Unfortunately, noise pollution has become an issue and my anxiety on the subject has greatly increased.

People have lengthy phone conversations over loudspeaker at the grocery store.
People let their kids use devices with the volume on in restaurants and waiting rooms. (This even happened on a plane once!)
People hike in the mountain carrying boomboxes!!!

Judging by all of the instances I witness on a weekly basis, people are either selfish and ill-mannered, completely oblivious, or both.

I like music as much as anyone else and blasting a good song every once in a while is, I concede, good fun but there is a time and a place for this and public spaces such as restaurants, beaches and parks are not it…
If you like it loud, anytime, anywhere, put your headphones on (or put it on your kid’s head) and go to town.

I grew up learning that “my freedom stops where someone else’s starts”.
Has no one else heard of this? Or does no one care?

Do I not have a right to hear the ocean at the beach?
Do I not deserve to feast on the chirping of birds and rustling of the leaves in the trees when I take the time and make the effort to venture into the forrest?
Is the enjoyment of a quiet meal out free from electronics such an unrealistic expectation?

On the rare occasions when we’ve approached people to make them aware of the disturbance they’re causing, they act appalled that we dared mention it; they truly seem to believe that it is their right to do what they want when they want. So long as it is convenient to them, who cares if it is inconvenient to someone else?

Unfortunately there is no clearcut law in Hawaii that addresses that issue. It’s sad we even need such a law.
There is no other recourse besides staying and enduring or leaving.
On one point, I’m still wrestling. To tell or not to tell?

If I talk to the offending party, I risk a confrontation. At best angry words might be exchanged. At worst, it could become physical. It seems silly to risk my personal safety for something so trivial.

If I don’t say anything, I let them completely off the hook. That goes against my sense of justice. Why should they not deal with the consequence of their actions? Why should they not be made aware that they are doing something inappropriate? Yet since I am unlikely to effect lasting change on them, what’s the point?

“…All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

The million dollar question remains unanswered: does their pursuit of happiness trump mine?

What do you think?


I am currently in Tokyo and even having a phone conversation in public (especially the train) is stated unacceptable behavior. That’s one rule I’d like to import. 😉

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