On Being Silent

Predawn is my favorite time to walk, especially in the winter. Newly fallen snow muffles the sound of my footsteps, non-migratory birds flit silently from branch to branch seeking warmth or food, and deer gently pass through the trees foraging for breakfast. This is the best kind of silence, the kind that gives space to reflect, meditate, pray. It’s soothing and healing and renews. It inspires creativity, gives birth to new ideas, brings energy to do wildly ambitious things.

There are other kinds of silence. Cultural norms that tell us certain topics are off limits, nice/good girls don’t talk about that, children should be seen and not heard, husbands rule the household and their word is final. Family secrets that are kept and protect abusers and molesters. Silencing that keeps women, people of color, those who identify as LGBTQ+ and many others away from the table so their voices are never heard. 

There’s also silence that is the result of the person whose voice is louder than yours, or the person who cries whenever they’re confronted so you stop talking, or the person whose violent words or actions terrify you and keep you from saying a word.

Over the last couple of years, I wanted to write about many things, but I was scared. Scared that I would upset or offend my family members, former co-workers, fellow church members, men, women, people of color, pretty much anyone and everyone. There were also times when I did speak up, only to have people belittle or contradict what I was saying. To be honest, having been on the receiving end of this and other criticism in the past, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put myself through it. 

There’s a price to pay, however, for being silent. Great ideas never get brought to light. Acquaintances never turn into friends. Deserving people go unnoticed and unrewarded. Abuse continues. Sexual harassment continues. Injustices continue. Change doesn’t occur. Truth doesn’t get told. And sometimes people die.

Make no mistake – I am not a brave person. Confrontation is the worst and I’m terrible it. But I’m starting to realize that there are things that need to be said and maybe I’m the one that needs to say them. Maybe there are other people like me that want to have conversations about difficult topics, even if it means feeling incredibly uncomfortable. 

When I reflect on the times I’ve stayed silent, I feel much grief. Because I didn’t speak up, were other people molested or abused? Were they sexually harassed in the workplace? Were they unable to share because I didn’t see them and wasn’t listening? What scars do my children bear because I was too tired and afraid to properly protect them?

Here are some things to think about: 

  • How have you been silenced? 
  • Have you ever silenced someone else? 
  • Do you ever want to talk about something but avoid it because you don’t want to deal with the repercussions? 
  • Do you ever want desperately to share a secret that you’ve been keeping and is killing you but you’re too ashamed or frightened?
  • Does knowing you’re not alone give you the courage to speak up?

One last thing. If you or someone you know needs help, call the appropriate number below. Please don’t stay silent.

Domestic Abuse Hotline 800-799-SAFE (7233)

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-273-8255