The SNJ’s new columnist Karen Eberhardt-Shelton was born in California but grew up in England.

She now lives in Stroud and is currently working on an education project called Learn, Think, Act and is hoping to develop an eco-community land trust.

Her thought-provoking columns will focus on how we all have to take responsibility for our actions and for our planet.

Who invented screaming?

I SUPPOSE you could say that birds sometimes scream but basically, they live according to the rules of their domain.

When adult humans scream, it’s not generally because they are locked in a closet; it is fear, a sudden shock, seeing an old friend they had assumed was dead or, depending on the type of scream, getting in the mood at a rock concert when the star shows up.

What I want to know is why the screaming and shrieking of little ones is par for the course these days.

They even let loose in supermarkets without an ounce of reprimand or being chilled in a freezer compartment, and would probably unwind in libraries and churches too (do people go to such places these days?) if a quiet aura of discipline and etiquette didn’t prevail.

Part of my problem is that I’m now etched into the upper strata age-wise, and can remember “how things used to be.”

If you’re only 20, 30, or 40, you haven’t lived long enough to build up a basis for comparison; screaming in the present versus demure silence 50 years ago. (Mind you, all this is just my opinion; disagree as much as you like.) I would never have gone around screaming as a kid and none of the kids I knew at the time would have done so either.

If we had, we’d have been shushed, reprimanded, or sent to sit in a corner facing the wall.

We would have been looked on as rude little pieces of torn cloth – unfit for the fitting in.

It’s called the social contract and basically runs like this: “Morality consists of the set of rules governing behaviour that rational people would accept, on the condition that others accept them as well. . .There must be guarantees that people will not harm one another, and must be able to rely on each other to keep to their agreements. . . It is important that everyone, or nearly everyone, be party to the contract, otherwise we have anarchy or civil war. . .Each person agrees to follow the laws of the state on the condition that everyone else does the same.”

I think it is commonplace now for neighbourhood children to have screaming competitions. Sometimes nearly all day long. I can sense the leaves curling up to shut out the sound.

Who can scream the loudest and longest with the most impact.

I hear glass shatter. Dogs howl. (They howl anyway; another aspect of the inappropriate sound issue.) The parents seem to be inside smoking cigarettes or chatting on the phone or doing whatever adds up to nothing. No boundaries, no sense of right or wrong, what is or isn’t appropriate, or how some clod in their digs just above might be struggling to meet the deadline for a new book on Silence. Would it be acceptable, if out of boredom, I started screaming too? Or singing at the top of my lungs at 2am?

Sure, children need to muck about and have lots of silly fun, but that’s not the whole of life. The social contract includes them too. “Noise” is unavoidable but boundaries need to be reinstated so that its excess is silenced.

Even wolves stop howling after awhile.