Friday, October 10, 2008
Silence is golden. Or is it? When a society stays silent in the face of wrong, bad things happen. Consider the Holocaust. Millions of people murdered. Billions turned a blind eye. If you asked those people if they agreed with the philosophies and actions of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, most would have said no. So, why did they stay silent? To keep their own peace. To keep the ugliness of what was happening there from spilling over into their space. They took the position that it wasn’t their fight. It wasn’t their business. They didn’t want to hear about it, and they certainly felt no responsibility to stop it.
Oh, they vow NOW never to forget. They vow NOW never again. But it is simply too late for those millions of people who paid with their lives – slow and painful deaths in many cases – who watched as their loved ones died, while people remained silent.
Silence in the face of wrong behavior is detrimental on much smaller scales, as well. Consider the matter of incest, or if that offends our senses, an alcoholic parent, someone in a family suffering from an eating disorder, or perhaps someone with a violent temper. There is a stated or unstated agreement that this is private family business and not to be spoken of in public. Too often, though, it also isn’t talked about in private, within the family. The offended feels invalidated, while the offender feels empowered. There are no consequences for their behavior, so why should they not continue? Those who are remiss to speak out actually enable the behavior by creating an environment where these actions can continue. And so they do continue. The consequences play out in the lives of the individuals involved in a variety of ways. The directly offended may become isolated and withdrawn, develop their own inappropriate behaviors as a way of coping or lashing out, or, at the least, it may hinder their ability to develop healthy relationships outside the bounds of the walls holding in their pain. The bystanders don’t learn proper coping skills. They often feel guilt for not intervening, but may not feel that guilt or express their remorse until the situation has spiraled out of control for either the offended or the offender – or both. They wait until they no longer have the ability to do anything about the situation. Ironically, they also often become champions for outside causes, defenders of the underdog, or those unable to speak for themselves, even becoming involved in preventing the same behavior that has found residence within their own family. The offender, not having learned that certain behaviors are unacceptable will continue, often escalating thus giving themselves even more grandiose feelings of power – both imaginary and real, as they master the art of manipulation utilizing their weapon of choice. In the case of eating disorders and other self destructive behaviors, the consequences for the offender can be life long struggles and ultimately early death.
Silence can also be destructive to other types of group dynamics. Consider these quotes from Eviatar Zerubavel in his book, The Elephant in the Room:
“Silence, as the saying goes, is consent. By remaining silent about wrong behavior we normalize it, essentially enhancing its perpetuation by implicitly encouraging potential offenders to regard it as morally acceptable.”
“By enabling such collective denial, conspiracies of silence prevent us from confronting, and consequently solving, our problems…”
“Co-ignoring the elephant in the room requires a major collaborative effort on everyone’s part and is therefore socially exhausting. Not surprisingly, it can also generate a lot of tension. Indeed, the thicker the silence, the deeper the tension that builds around it.”
“Thus, ironically, partly in an effort to preserve group solidarity, conspiracies of silence often undermine that very solidarity by impending the development of honest, trusting relations that presupposes open communication. Indeed, in an attempt to “protect” groups, they often make them become somewhat dysfunctional.”
Hmm. The elephant in the room …
A perfect analogy for what is – or rather what is not happening in the anti-KK community right now. There is a member of that group who has once again contacted others with the intent of riling emotions and stirring up discontent directed at one or more other members of the group. It has been brought to our attention. It has been documented and her behavior has been publicly challenged. Yet the group remains silent, ignoring the elephant in the room. It certainly isn’t a lack of awareness. The hundreds of hits to my blog attest to the that. Solidarity is being damaged, not by the open charge of misconduct as some would claim, rather by a willingness to sacrifice that solidarity and trust by allowing this misconduct to continue unchecked and without confrontation.
It is like hearing the banging of the headboard and muffled cries behind the closed door, yet rolling over in your own bed, burying your head in the pillow to muffle the sounds so you can get to sleep, undisturbed.
Honestly, I simply don’t understand this. It really seems that people are willing to sacrifice the one (or the few) in order to keep peace in their own little space. What happens when they come for you?
Yucky, I feel so very bad that you seem to have been deemed to be an acceptable target. You say it doesn’t matter, but I know better. It matters, because YOU matter.
Silence like a cancer grows …
(edited to add: You, as an individual, know if this applies to you. If it doesn't, it doesn't. If you aren't sure, ask an objective friend.)