I’ve notices a lot of mentions and memes about the value of silence lately, and to be honest it’s started to bother me. Not because I think silence is a bad thing. Silence can be a very valuable thing. But there are different kinds of silence, and what I’ve seen much of lately are references to the idea that being silent, staying out of the fray, remaining aloof and silent on the perimeter as everyone else makes a ruckus, is the mark of a mature and classy person.
And what bothers me is the way that these ideas like “classy” and “ladylike” and “polite” are all concepts used to suppress the voices of others, to divide and then silence.
You see, there are different kinds of silence.
Communication involves communication being sent and received. And when either the sending or receiving party decides to stop that transmission, you get some kind of silence.
There are good kinds of silence, where the receiving party chooses to avoid communications for a while in order to create a distraction- and discord-free space to facilitate some other beneficial activity. For instance, most of us like to sleep in silence or meditate in silence or read in silence. If we can’t achieve silence, we at least seek quiet. We recognize that the amount of messages and noise around us isn’t always beneficial, and so we occasionally shut down the transmissions by refusing to receive.
And there can be other good kinds of silence, where the sending party chooses not to communicate to benefit the receiving party in some way. Maybe we recognize their need for silence, or we know that what we have to say might be hurtful or disruptive for no good reason. Maybe it’s not the right time or place.
But then there are the bad kinds of silence. When the sender withholds communication from us to benefit themselves, we are forced into destructive silence. Communication is power. And if communication is withheld from us, it allows those doing withholding to wield that power over us.
Even worse, when we are prevented from communicating our own important messages, our power is taken away. Our choice to communicate or not is no longer ours to make.
When we allow ourselves to be coerced or convinced to give up our voice, we give up our most valuable tool and our most powerful weapon. We’re being asked to relinquish that power in exchange for something else. But few things in life, I think, are worth that kind of sacrifice.