I struggle with being quiet.
When I’m in a position where I have something important to say, especially when I disagree with what is going on, and I feel like I’ve not been allowed to say what needs to be said, I spend a lot of time afterwards obsessing over what I should have said and how I should have ensured I had the chance to say it.
When the things we have to say, the things we feel a deep need to express, are truly significant, is it really the right thing to do to stay quiet? Is being quiet the virtue it’s so often painted to be?
I was raised to defer to the opinions of others. People who were older than me, people with titles and responsibilities, people who had influence, people who were intimidating in some way… there was an unspoken philosophy there which said that unless you had authority or power over someone, your disagreement was not to be voiced or taken seriously. The only one allowed to rock the boat was the captain.
The idea that being quiet and polite is virtuous only holds up if there is a higher power somewhere that must be deferred to. Maybe it’s god, maybe it’s someone with authority over you, but this idea that we become better people when we learn to be quiet actually tells us that we are better people when we relinquish our power to someone or something else.
So, if we take a closer look at who we feel we should and should not contradict or confront, who we’re allowed to stand up to and when we’re encouraged to raise our voices, it will tell us a lot about the hierarchy we live within.
When I feel most silenced, most censored, those are the times I feel most vulnerable and stripped of power. When my voice is silenced, my power is lessened. If I don’t have a voice in my mundane life – at work, with friends, in my community – I feel shut out. Excluded. And the time I spend going over the ways I could and should have spoken up is my gut reaction to that feeling of oppression. It’s my inner scream for freedom of self. Expecting me to be a willing participant in a scenario where I have no say is asking me to have faith in the good will of those in power.
Of course, this is the absolute picture of many religions. You are to have faith in a higher power. You are to take their authority as absolute and unquestionable, and expect to be rewarded for obedience. Most of us have a problem submitting to this in the real world. And, if we’re honest, I think humanity has always had a problem submitting to this in a spiritual context as well.
As much as we, as a culture, as a species in recent centuries, like to talk about faith, we’re bad at it. We’re not naturally submissive. Yes, we like structure and system, the predictability of it all, but we don’t like being told to shut up, and we never have, not even by a deity. Which is why, over the millennia, humanity’s submission to the divine had to be ensured through threats and punishments. It’s why we’ve revised our religions and used them as excuses to raise our voices against other things we don’t like. If we have to submit, we want that submission to come with permission to oppress someone else.
Ultimately, I think we have to conclude that being quiet isn’t a virtue except through the eyes of those who wield power over us. And perhaps we should stop giving up our voices.