Minute #663: Volume Control

“What can I do to help this situation?” Rabbi Rothberg asked. “Please tell me it’s reversible. I’m so afraid of even the most minor surgical procedure.”

“I believe we’ve caught it early,” Dr. Shah said. “But for your vocal cords to recover, we’ll need total voice rest for two weeks. In 15 days we’ll examine you again and see how to proceed.”

“Two weeks?” Rabbi Rothberg said. “How’s a man in my position supposed to survive without speaking for such a long time?”

“The choice is yours, my friend. Silence or surgery,” the doctor said.

Over the next two weeks Rabbi Rothberg winked and pointed, wrote quick notes on a pad he carried and smiled with approval and frowned disapproval. What surprised him was how well others understood what he wanted and how much they co-operated. Fortunately, his follow-up exam showed improvement and surgery was avoided.

“If you learn to avoid straining your voice with screaming and yelling you won’t be back,” Dr. Shah advised.

What the Rabbi learned during voice rest was that people respond better to quiet instruction than to loud commands. Students, congregants and especially children “turn off” when the volume is too loud. When one speaks in very loud tones for an extended period, people can’t maintain their attention span and their minds float towards any and all distractions. Effective communication is achieved by knowing when and how to raise one’s voice and when to whisper. Both techniques “underline” one’s words and stress what one is trying to convey.

Yelling briefly to warn of impending danger is necessary, but Kohelet taught (9:17): “The words of wise men are heard in quiet.”

One More Second: Another Thought for the Day

If not for forgetting, one would never be relieved of sorrow. No joy could expel it from his mind, and nothing would afford him pleasure when he remembers the misfortunes of this world; he would hope for nothing and would not leave off brooding. (Chovot HaLevavot, “The Gate of Bechinah,” 5)

Forgetting is a miraculous process of intricately planned wisdom, like a diary from which the unhappy episodes or words fade away, leaving only the pleasant entries. (Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Awake My Glory)