The result both to speaker and listener is worth the effort ten times over.
As we habitually lower the pitch of our voices our words cease gradually to be “born dead.” With a low-pitched voice everything pertaining to the voice is more open and flexible and can react more immediately to whatever may be in our minds to express.
Moreover, the voice itself may react back again upon our dispositions. If a woman gets excited in an argument, especially if she loses her temper, her voice will be raised higher and higher until it reaches almost a shriek. And to hear two women “argue” sometimes it may be truly said that we are listening to a “caterwauling.” That is the only word that will describe it.
But if one of these women is sensitive enough to know she is beginning to strain in her argument and will lower her voice and persist in keeping it lowered the effect upon herself and the other woman will put the “caterwauling” out of the question.
“Caterwauling” is an ugly word. It describes an ugly sound. If you have ever found yourself in the past aiding and abetting such an ugly sound in argument with another—say to yourself “caterwauling,” “caterwauling,” “I have been ‘caterwauling’ with Jane Smith, or Maria Jones,” or whoever it may be, and that will bring out in such clear relief the ugliness of the word and the sound that you will turn earnestly toward a more quiet way of speaking.
The next time you start on the strain of an argument and your voice begins to go up, up, up—something will whisper in your ear “caterwauling” and you will at once, in self-defense, lower your voice or stop speaking altogether.
It is good to call ugly things by their ugliest names. It helps us to see them in their true light and makes us more earnest in our efforts to get away from them altogether.
I was once a guest at a large reception and the noise of talking seemed to be a roar, when suddenly an elderly man got up on a chair and called “silence,” and having obtained silence he said, “it has been suggested that every one in this room should speak in a lower tone of voice.”
The response was immediate. Every one went on talking with the same interest only in a lower tone of voice with a result that was both delightful and soothing.
I say every one—there were perhaps half a dozen whom I observed who looked and I have no doubt said “how impudent.” So it was “impudent” if you chose to take it so—but most of the people did not choose to take it so and so brought a more quiet atmosphere and a happy change of tone.
Theophile Gautier said that the voice was nearer the soul than any other expressive part of us. It is certainly a very striking indicator of the state of the soul. If we accustom ourselves to listen to the voices of those about us we detect more and more clearly various qualities of the man or the woman in the voice, and if we grow sensitive to the strain in our own voices and drop it at once when it is perceived, we feel a proportionate gain.