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03/25/2006: "The sound of silence"

The Sound of Silence



An essay on the power of silence, and the occasional costs thereof.

The Sound of Silence
By: Téa - March 26, 2006
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Words have power and life beyond the writer or speaker–the absence of words carries much the same. Silence implies consent, emboldening the speaker and planting an idea in the mind of the listener, for good or ill.

Years ago my husband received letters from a member of his family expressing serious doubts about my virtues or whether I would be good for him–several months after we were married. My husband did not rebut those claims at the time. Months or years later we concluded that through his silence (both to the author and in keeping it from me) the ideas put forth in those letters clouded my husband’s judgment and affected his behavior toward me.

Another application of this is the verbally battered victim’s belief of the accusations that are laid against them. If they are told enough times that they are lazy, stupid, worthless, hopeless or that they bring all their troubles upon themselves, without assertations by self or others being made to the contrary, they begin to believe it. “Stop Using Words That Hurt” in the March 2006 Ensign explores the children’s aspect of it. Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame portrays this in Quasimodo’s beliefs about himself and Judge Frollo as well.

Let’s say you have an acquaintance who spares no effort to disparage a certain Church leader, local or general. Do you hold your tongue, defend the person, or at least denounce the attack? More to the point, would such silence be contrary to sustaining Church leaders? Does it make you an accomplice after the fact?

We encounter criticisms of the Church, from inside and out. Silence can be an appropriate response. Are there times that we grant statements more validity than they deserve through our silence?

There should be a different reaction to the general conference/temple pageant protester and a person you’re conversing with. While the former is trolling for a fight, the latter may not know where you stand–what will your silence communicate? Do you know what you believe? (1 Peter 3:15)

Mormon feminism is another area where articulation can be mutually beneficial for the speaker and the listener.

“Oh, I’m so not a feminist!” someone says. “I don’t want to be a woman who’s trying to be a man!” and so on.

Hmm, I think, that’s not what feminism means to me. Speak up or keep silent? Who gains or who loses?

Silence is not always golden, the saying goes, sometimes it is just plain yellow.

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I recently caught myself being “non-silent” (tough historically I’ve worried about talking too much). Someone was going on and on attacking someone, in passing, for being gay. It took very little to derail them completely and change the subject.

I’d like to think that I’d do the same at work. I’m lucky in that I’ve not had to deal with racist or similar conversations.

But you are right, there is a time to talk, as well as a time to be silent.

Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — March 26, 2006 @ 8:22 am

This goes hand in hand with the humor which pokes fun at others in stereotypical ways…those of us who don’t say something are in small ways indicating our assent.

I’m such a mouth, normally, but I have been guilty of staying silent in an effort to avoid creating enemies. I try to judge my effots against the expected results, and if there is no gain to be had, I’m usually silent.

On the other hand, I have chosen to speak up and have experienced the consequences. Sometimes I’m glad I did.

I hope you always find the courage to speak when it is time.

Ethesis, I have been very impressed by your comments on various websites and I feel you have a good heart. I know that Téa has a good heart.

All in all, as a former believer who still feels the tug of the culture, I’m impressed with this website. On the whole, it provides a thoughtful forum for many viewpoints and gives me great hope for the future of the LDS community.

Comment by Darlene — March 26, 2006 @ 11:16 am

Wow. What a thoughtful, thought-provoking and powerful post! I admit that often I’m “too yellow” to speak up but this post reminds me why I want to change that.

Comment by Proud Daughter of Eve — March 26, 2006 @ 3:10 pm

Ah, yes - speaking up - one of the primary reasons I am persona non grata in my stake! Sometimes I think I’ve really got to learn to pick my battles better. The ignorant man in my gospel doctrine class who says that minorities are “just really good at making noise and getting their own way” won’t change his opinion because I argue with him. Sometimes, isn’t it better to walk away than to get involved in another pointless fight? Isn’t that also indicating my dissent? Or should we always speak up, and damn the consequences, even if it means causing contention, being verbally abused by pretty much every other person in class, and not really making a difference anyway?

The verbal abuse is tough; and it is always followed by rumour and gossip; and I always leave in tears and feeling terrible inside; but I really don’t care what these people think about, so I can take it. But is there any point in taking it, when absolutely nothing is accomplished by speaking out except voicing my dissent? At what stage does my desire to voice dissent become nothing more than pride?

Comment by Quimby — March 26, 2006 @ 4:13 pm

I have been known to speak up when the time is right, and I also think there is a time for silence. There are times to defend, and sometimes the defense is to keep those sacred things sacred and not more food for fodder, it all really depends on the time, the place, the person involved and other surroundings. Silence isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be if you never stand up for those beliefs at other times. No, I don’t think I’m a feminist, but I don’t thing defending and standing up for values, and personal beliefs to belong to one “classification”. We should all be willing to do that no matter how we view ourselves, man, woman, married, single, parent, childless, member or non member. One of my best friends, a catholic, has defended the LDS church, perhaps more than other avowed members.
I suppose what I’m saying is that contention is not of the spirit, but when the spirit says defend, then by all means do so, in a loving, testimony bearing moment of truth.
On another note, I’m glad you are in my family, you are a good wife, good mother, and I know that the man you married would add great and wonderful!

Comment by Tigersue — March 26, 2006 @ 4:31 pm

Change is usually achieved inside the system, not from outside, and if not being silent means that one gets ostracized, then maybe silence is the preferred course of action.

[Yes, even civil rights and voting rights were achieved by working within the system, not from the outside.]

Comment by queuno — March 26, 2006 @ 7:59 pm

Stephen, I think that’s exactly the kind of scenario that calls for “non silence”, especially where someone seems to be going on and on =)

Darlene (Mama), I think even a small, “hmm, don’t find that funny, moving on…” can get that across. As part of a larger audience, however, silence (straight face, non-laughter) may express that. Depending on the event, the occasional ‘boo’ too.

I’m pleased with this website too–glad you enjoy it here.

Proud Daughter of Eve–thank you. I hope all who read it will consider the many motivations for silence and evaluate the potential for change.

Comment by Téa — March 26, 2006 @ 8:54 pm

quimby, picking battles, particularly in a public setting (like Sunday School) takes some practice, I agree. There are a few different issues in your comment which I want to address.

First–my apologies for the appalling behavior of the class–ugh! Verbal abuse has no place in the church, none, and the fact that it carries over into later gossip is filthy icing on that poisoned cake. Why does the teacher allow it happen?

Second–walking away can indicate your dissent, absolutely.

Third–If both silence and direct rebuttal are not to your liking, there may be other options. When brother X starts spouting off, you could comment about how you’d like to get back to actual lesson material rather than wild personal opinion and steer the conversation that way. If talking to him won’t do any good, perhaps talking to someone that the individual would listen to–the teacher, the Sunday School president, Bishop–and they could give him some guidelines about appropriate comments in class.

Fourth–sometimes speaking up does mean “damn the consequences”. Do what is right, let the consequence follow sort of thing. If you would feel sick inside by not saying something, is that pride or the Spirit pricking your conscience? Only you know your motivations for speaking (or not).

Fifth, I don’t think you should have to take verbal abuse. Something is really wrong there and I don’t think it all comes back to your speaking up.

Good luck, quimby, I thank you for your comment.

Comment by Téa — March 26, 2006 @ 9:16 pm

Thanks, Tigersue–I’m oh so glad we’re family.

Your point about the proper exercising of defense is well taken. If someone insults my love life, for example, rebutting by describing evidence to the contrary would likely be casting pearls =)

I think if we are keeping silent because we’re afraid to open our mouths, we need to examine where that fear is coming from and deal with it accordingly. If the Spirit is constraining us, we should follow that.

queuno, your comment reminded me of that poem about not speaking up for others. Funny thing about that, Rev. Niemoller did speak up and he was convicted of treason and sent to a concentration camp.

Could you expand on the view in your comment? Do you feel silence is preferred in creating overall change? If so, how does one communicate the need for change?

Comment by Téa — March 26, 2006 @ 9:33 pm

I am convinced it’s all in the delivery. On occasion, the Spirit moves effortlessly through my tongue, usually when I have gotten myself and my emotions out of the way.

I believe that our emotional reactions to various evils are a signal that we’re receiving some deeper Truth, and that emotion directs us to react. However, I think when we’ve arrived at that point of saying something, it’s best to dive away from our emotional attachment, and let the deep, cooler waters of Spirit direct the tongue. Not that I claim to be successful 100% of the time. I just notice on the rare occasions when I detach, I suddenly sound eloquent, and no one gets mad….

Not to say that truth doesn’t find its way through a verbal train wreck. My sister “abused” me several years ago with horrible words, but there was a truth in them which changed the course of my life. I am indebted to her for being so brave as to say something. I just wish she hadn’t been so nasty.

Comment by pele — March 26, 2006 @ 9:38 pm

i have noticed a mormon habit that when i’d say ,ohh lets see, i like a certain soap opera rather than denoucing me as a child from hell the sister/s go very very quiet…or if i say anything else that might not be part of their mormon perfect view of the world…we have alovely YW in our branch who comes across as the perfect girl and lets every one know it, and is actually quite annoying. since my daughter has recently become less active she doesn’t talk to me if i mention my daughter ,its as though she has stopped existing. mother doesn’t even look me in the eye and has actually requested that i’m no longer her vt!! Branch pres wife by the way….silence can sometimes be very annoying and speak volumes about the person too. wish i could be a lttle silent more though, often bite my tounge!!

And i wish my DH who is naturally a quiet guy would speak out for me more too, many a time he’s left me to defend myself…

debra UK

Comment by debra — March 27, 2006 @ 1:43 am

I just wanted to say something about your comment on being a feminist. I don’t think you are wrong for feeling you are feminist nor do I feel your views are bad but my understanding of feminism is different than most. I don’t think feminism means we want to be men but I do believe a lot of (not all and not you neccisarriy) feminists want superiority not equality, While I believe we are created equal in our spiritual worth I do not believe we are created equal in what our roles are. I have never considered myself a feminist but that in no way means that I think those of you who do, are wrong.

Great post and I enjoyed that ensign article as well. Kim was told by a counselor 10 years ago that he should divorce me. That was in my opinion an opinion that should have been kept to the counselor and not spoken to Kim but I am glad Kim didn’t heed that advice!

Comment by Kimberly — March 27, 2006 @ 7:33 am

I enjoyed your post. I agree whole heartedly in Tigersue’s comment. She expressed so well what I was thinking as I read it and don’t have the talent to express it as well as she does. I too am grateful that you are in our family and I personally think you are very good to and fore my son.

Comment by MomR — March 27, 2006 @ 11:41 pm

I learned a great deal about keeping silent from my father. Sadly Quimby, that could have been my father in your class. Embarassing but true. From him I learned that there is a time and place for everything, and we have to pay attention in order to know what it is. I may not agree with my brothers decision to be a wine drinker, but I’m certainly not going to walk into his home and call him to repentance for it, as my father did. The things my father has said to me connecting the color of my hair to my worthiness have taught me that the things we say can ruin our relationships with others, and not for things that are worth it. We have an obligation as human beings to stand up when someone is being hurt or wronged. As far as someone being viciously maligned, if you haven’t the courage to say something, say nothing, get up and walk away. This method has worked for me many times. It gives me a chance to cool off before I say something totally stupid, and that act speaks volumes.
If you say you like a movie, others will usually say they liked it too, even if they didn’t. It’s human nature to want to get along and run smoothly. We just have to decide when running smoothly truly isn’t worth it.

Comment by MarissaS — March 28, 2006 @ 12:11 pm

pele, following the Spirit is quite important in these matters. Abusive language, not of the Spirit, negates what nugget of truth may be found in the midst of the venom.

debra UK, such silent treatment of your daughter sounds absolutely juvinile on their part. I hope you and your daughter come through it okay. I also hope your husband comes to his senses and recognizes that a time to be silent isn’t when his wife is facing the wolves.

MomR, thank you for your comment.

MarissaS, ouch, it sounds like your father has a lot of issues and I’m sorry he wrecked relationships with his non-silence.

We have an obligation as human beings to stand up when someone is being hurt or wronged. As far as someone being viciously maligned, if you haven’t the courage to say something, say nothing, get up and walk away…that act speaks volumes.

This was worth repeating, thank you, MarissaS!

Comment by Téa — March 28, 2006 @ 3:30 pm

Kimberly, we have different definitions of feminism, which I suspect is the cause of your discomfort. Substitute gender egalitarianism if that helps you to understand my position more clearly.

If you’re truly interested in learning more, check out the summary of a forum held this month on Mormon Feminism.

You’ll find several interesting points, including the idea that feminism as a preferred term is on its way out, that women today enjoy freedoms fought for by previous generations of feminists(such as educational & career opportunities, family planning, equal partnership with husbands, men contributing to house work, etc), and to counter your supposition, no mention of feminine superiority anywhere in the post or comments.

There are some good personal posts here on this site–use the search option and you can find a variety of viewpoints.

Hope this helps =)

Comment by Téa — March 28, 2006 @ 3:47 pm

Replies: 2 Comments

on Sunday, March 26th, Moi said

::::tumbleweeds roll across screen:::::

on Wednesday, March 29th, Barb said

That is a powerful message. I know that I tend to be silent when others share gossip or at injustices at times when I should speak up. I am glad that the Ensign had an article that helps people understand more about verbal abuse and the consequences.

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