Friday, August 17, 2007

Weekend: Your Silence Will Not Protect You (Audre Lorde)

"I have come to believe, over and over again, that what is important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood."

Another Audre Lorde quote.

I've been thinking about silence lately. How we use silence to protect ourselves. How we use silence to maintain the status quo. How we use silence to express indifference. How we use silence because it's easier than taking a risk. How silence becomes just another expression of laziness.

I have always interpreted silence as indifference or disdain. It is the fastest, surest way to get me to retreat. In my family of origin, silence was punishment. Being ostracized from the group is how we were forced back into line.

It stops everything cold. It chills the soul. It destroys relationships. It serves no purpose. It allows things to go on that should never go on.

Last night I watched a TV show, an investigative journalism thing, where a couple of people got away with murder because no one was willing to speak up. They were afraid. And their fear and their silence made it possible for the violence to continue.

In a more benign sense, silence is what destroys relationships. Things unsaid. And as we use silence in our private interactions, it extrapolates out to the larger world and becomes a way of life.

Not speaking. Not asking. Passivity that comes not from peace but from simple indifference and laziness.

I don't get involved in American politics. Period. But I have definitely seen how silence contributes to the continuation of the path that country is on, and how, just as was predicted by those much wiser than me, it allows the oligarchy (yes, I'll use that word) to gain more and more control over the private lives of citizens. At what point do I use the "f-word" (fascism) which requires a silenced population? I feel safe and accurate to use it now.

Am I the only one who sees it?

So that is an example of silence born of laziness that has now become silence based on fear.

There is a positive silence, the kind of silence that is based on trust. Certain things that don't need to be said because it's all been said before and is an internalized part of the relationship. But that takes time and it takes a level of comfort.

I believe it's true on both a social and personal level.

I am trying to be better about this. I'm trying to be better about how I use my silence as well as using my voice to express the things I believe and feel while being as kind and considerate as possible. There's no doubt that I have much to learn and my words still stumble and fall around like a drunk ~ and my silence still oppresses ~ but I'm trying.

What do you think about these things? How do you use silence?



Girlplustwo said...

sometimes i am silent when afraid. feeling unsafe of the conversation or circumstances. sometimes i practice silence intentionally to allow for a closer listening of others.

Sarah said...

I think silence can be critically important in a positive sense. Too many people don't allow enough silence during intimate conversations and thus short-circuit the telling of important information.

Good therapists know how (and when) to use silence in order to allow important truths to be revealed.

Anonymous said...

oh dear. I am not very good at being silent. Sometimes I wish I were patient enough to better formulate my responses or polite enough to be a better listener. But silence is not my strong suit.

I find it terrible that the American people allowed themselves to get into a situation out of fear and ignorance and blind faith. And when people spoke out against my governments actions they were told they were unAmerican and shut down. The sheep wouldn't even listen. They were to accustomed to blind faith. Fortunately there have been some over time who refused to be silent. Too litte, too late.

Julie Pippert said...

Hmm silence can be bad, I suppose, if it comes from a bad place, such as fear or punishment like you described.

But sometimes I think living out loud literally is overrated.

Now I am as talkative corporeally as I am online.

However, I am learning the value of silence sometimes. That's when talking would do more harm than good.

Distinguishing that is tough...but sometimes our words, our "honesty" put a pressure, an undue burden, on others, and we need to figure it out. I'll let you know when I do, LOL. ;)

I think the silence you mean is actually not silence---because I think there is a lot of noise---but is more complacency and compliance. It comes from a self-absorbed place, and an inability to determine when it is right to take a risk versus protect one's self.

That's tough. Very tough.

Ravin' Picture Maven

Cecilieaux Bois de Murier said...

I don't use silence, but I have had silence used against me.

I speak, and speak up, when I have something to say. I am not shy but I am reserved, except in intimate settings. Most often I have regretted dropping my reserve, even then.

In this I think I run against the grain. Most people do not speak up -- giving rise to the political f-word -- at work, in social situations, politically. Instead, many people chatter about nothing.

I am aghast that we live in a world in which humongous resources are going to allow some twit to tell another twit wirelessly "... and then he said" on the bus. Meanwhile almost 2 billion people live in urban slums in the globe.

Silence can be useful, especially to think and recollect oneself.

Aliki2006 said...

I think silence can be extremely powerful. I use it with people with whom it would be damaging to engage in a conversation at certain times. My mother, for instance, needs to escalate people to a level of high emotion and anger in order to "communicate" with them and I don't deal well with confrontation and anger. I tend to shut down and get too emotional. Silence can be a tool for self-preservation.

Gwen said...

It's weird: I think as a culture, we talk when we should be quiet--to reflect, to listen, to feel--and are silent when we should speak up--to right a wrong, to signal our ethical qualms. I was going to say that there's no real silence in the blogosphere, but that's not true at all. In fact, much of the blogosphere is just that: silent, listening, watching, waiting, digesting. Sometimes that's fine. And sometimes it's, you know, creepy (or hurtful, if you are all about dialogue and conversation).

blooming desertpea said...

There certainly are right times and wrong times to use silence ...

You have elaborated when it is wrong to use silence - when it does harm, to relationships, to people who need help, etc.

I found that one of the right times to use silence is when I'm verbally abused. One feels the urge to fight back, to use terrible words to hurt the other person but it's really useless to do that. It would make one feel better right then but not in the long run. That's when I prefer to remain silent and let the other person coast and make all the mistakes. It takes away the wind out of their sails ...

thailandchani said...

Jen, I can understand that spiritual use of silence. I do that, too. There are days spent in silence.. just to hear my environment with more clarity.

I'm trying to get beyond silence to cloak fear.. but am far from there at this point. I'm still rather meek by nature. So.. it's all a growing process.. I hope.


SM, oh.. with conversations, yes! I often find conversations frustrating when they become competitive rather than a learning tool.


Reflecting, I can understand. My tendency is the opposite.. to be silent when I shouldn't and talk when I shouldn't. Somehow that needs to be reversed! ;)

As for American people, yes, I see the same thing. If there was one thing we used to be able to count on many years ago, it is that Americans had opinions and no fear of expressing them. :)

Now... geez!

I see some of this happening in Thailand, too, since this new government. People are beginning to speak up but the same silencing tactics are being used as the ones in the US. Thai people don't speak up by nature.. and now is a time when they should!


Julie, I think you're right, too. There are times when silence is appropriate.. especially those times when the talking is just noise to fill up empty space.

This is such a balancing act! Knowing when it is best to speak.. because we truly have something to say.. and, on the other hand, when to shut the hell up! :)

Your last paragraph is on target. I like the semantics of it better than my presentation.


Cecileaux, yes.. useless chatter has always bothered me, too. The text messaging on the bus is somewhat preferable to the out loud chatter on freaking cell phones.. but not by much. It's still complete self-absorption.

The adventure is gone.. of meeting new people and hearing what they have to say when the space is filled up with collective dross.


Aliki, that is a positive use of silence. Definitely. Those kinds of interactions are just toxic. I'd find it too hard to remain silent so I have to remove myself from it.

It's just poisonous.


Gwen, you're right.. and in the interest of fairness and balance.. and all that.. Thai culture has the same trouble. Thai people don't use silence necessarily but they state their truth so obscurely that it can become a hindrance, too.

Misuse of kreng jai can be just as destructive when people don't state their needs or wants openly enough.

Maybe it's a human condition rather than a cultural one?

As for blogging, I think like anything else. Volumes can be said by saying nothing. And, yes, that is creepy.

I only like mysteries in novel form.




heartinsanfrancisco said...

I am not good at silence when I see something that seems wrong, as you know, but I understand the fear that makes most people silent.

The steaming mess surrounding Your Black Muslim Bakery in Oakland is an example of such fear. One man came forward with information about several murders and other illegal activities, and the journalist he told was murdered. The same man then went to the police, despite the certainty that the bad guys will kill him, too.

Few have that kind of courage.

Spiritual silence is wonderful, but the silence of not wanting to get involved is the main reason we have a fascist government in this country now. When we stop speaking up for what is right, we lose the right to do so.

Snoskred said...

Clearly I suck at silence.. but I'm ok with it.. mostly.

I don't like when my lack of silence makes others feel uncomfortable but if asked for my opinion I give it, regardless. Yeah that gets me into trouble sometimes. But if people didn't want my honest opinion they shouldn't have requested it ;)

Sometimes people act like they want you to hold a certain opinion, and I don't happen to hold it. I don't pretend to have that opinion because it makes someone else feel better about themselves - and if I sense my lack of silence will make them uncomfortable I prefer not to speak at all.

Simply put, I am a terrible liar. And even when I am silent I don't get away with lying. You can ask the other half about the red flashing neon sign on my forehead when I try to sneak things into the shopping trolley. ;)


Anonymous said...

My husband uses the "silent treatment." I hate it because he doesn't communicate very well, but the wheels in his mind are constantly turning, so there is a lot of misunderstanding and missed understanding.

I tend to talk too much and not listen very well. The "good" silence is something I could benefit from, with practice.

The silence of complacency and compliance, as Julie put it, allow the wicked to amass power. Citizens do need to find ways to be heard.

Cecilieaux Bois de Murier said...

I loathe the "silent treatment"!!!

thailandchani said...

C, I'm the same way. Give me the silent treatment and that is the quickest way to get me to look you straight in the eyes and say yet mang! and truly mean it. (The italicized statement is something extremely impolite in Thai, basically meaning that someone should have unnatural sex with him or herself. *ahem* :)

I need a break from the computer. No quality sleep last night and I feel a bit sick.. but..

I'll be back later. :)


mitzh said...

Sometimes silence can express our feelings much more deeper than when we speak. And silence can also be much louder than any scream.

Christine said...

first --i so missed you!

And for me I use silence to protect myself from teasing or ridicule--mark twain said something like: "better to keep quiet and let people think you are dumb than to open your mouth and prove them right."

or i use it to protect relationships. i, unfortunately will often clam up about things to maintain harmony. Working on it though!

ellie bee said...

I lived through years of silence with my ex-husband...and I think that there is nothing more cold and hurtful than that deliberate, degrading silence. I hated walking into a room, sitting down, switching on a light and finding him sitting there silently staring at me. Freaked me out. The occasional and rare silence in my new house is wonderful--it is a silence is a silence of peace and satisfaction...

meno said...

When i am silent, it is usually because i am either listening or i am gathering my inner self so that i can act like a decent human being again.

painted maypole said...

i tend to be silent when I am afraid, or want to fit in, or feel unsure.

I wrote about my theater experience in London a bit ago, and seeing a Pinter play, and his plays are famous for having the stage directions "Pause" and "Silence," so this post made me think of that. Usually the silences in his plays are manipulative and oppressive.

painted maypole said...

by the way, i like this yellowish tan as opposed to the white background. It is softer, like you (and I mean that in a wonderful and kind way of softness)

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a home where "the silent treatment" was a pretty common thing. It's the one thing I absolutely will not put up with as an adult- the first time someone gives me "the silent treatment" is the last time they are welcome in my life.

I like this quote by Maggie Kuhn: "Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes!"

River said...

I'm not good at face to face conversation so I use silence there to be a listener. I also use silence when afraid or unsure. My husband is mentally unstable and when he snaps into one of his rages silence is definitely the best way to go. Answering can be seen as arguing with him and that REALLY pops his cork. When he is over it, then we talk.

River said...

And here's another vote for the cream coloured background. Much, much easier on the eyes.

thailandchani said...

Mitzh, very true. Very.. true.


Christine.. so... you're finally back. :) It sounds like you use silence similarly to me. I do it to maintain harmony.. and then find I've built up a resentment about something. Once resentful, it's only a matter of time until my temper flares.

It is a hard one to get over. Especially when it's kept us safe in the past.


Ellie, oh, yeah.. that's the kind of silence that would make me walk out the door and never come back.


Meno.. Silence is definitely better than some of the things coming out of our mouths that might be instinctive, eh? :)


Maypole, oppressive or manipulative silences are the ones I can't stand.. or the indifferent ones.


Thomas, I'm with you. I won't tolerate it at all now. If someone does that, it's nearly irreparable. The relationship's over.

If someone uses silence to wound, it's not worth it to me to try to fix it.


River, that sounds pretty scary!


Thanks for the comments on the background. It's growing on me, too. It appears pale yellow on my screen.. but all screens seem to be different. :)



kaliroz said...

when i'm silent ... either i have nothing to add.

or, more likely, i'm afraid. i'm afraid of throwing things out there.

it's part of the reason i blog. i'm mostly anonymous so i can say what i want to say and not worry about falling on my face.

but, there are other times i'm silent simply because there are no words.

like when a friend is hurt. or i'm simply being in a moment. silence, sometimes, says more than words.

KC said...

Silence can be often reflective for me. Processing. Assessing. Interpreting. I don't have a need to fill silence for the sake of filling it.

LittlePea said...

I enjoyed reading all these great comments! I hate the silent treatment too. When I was little my mother used it often and it made us all feel like non-persons. I made a conscience decision not to ever ignore anyone if I was angry or wanted to avoid an issue. I get livid when anyone tries to play that game with me....

I guess I'm not good at silence either. I'm only silent in the morning when I'm still trying to put my mind in order for the day.

I thought your use of the "f- word" was totally appropriate.....I've been saying that for years. I can't even count on both hands how many times my patriotism was questioned because I didn't happen to agree with everything that's going on. That's always the angle a person uses to get someone who dissents to 'just shut up' instead of actually listening or accepting the idea that not everyone has to have the same opinion.

I like the new New look over here.

Hel said...

I struggle with being silent when I should speak and speaking when I should be silent.

On both occasions fear is the things that motivates me. Sometimes the fear is a thick ball lodging in my chest and throat and sometimes it is a restless pushing from my stomach a I can no longer bear the un-comfortablenesses.

And in my house silence is also used to punish. So often when someone is merely being silent I immediately believe they are judging me.

Anonymous said...

This is a little off topic, but I have a postcard of Audre Lord on the wall behind my computer screen with the quote, "When I dare to be powerful- to use my strength in the service of my vision- then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid."

thailandchani said...

Kali, that anonymity does provide a safety zone of sorts. There are things I discuss here that would be too incendiary for everyday conversation in my immediate environment.

That's a good point. :)


KC, I'm with you on not uselessly filling up quiet space. In fact, I like quiet. I just don't like quiet that is intended to wound.


MsPea, silence in the face of political oppression is probably scarier than any silent treatment in a personal sense.

Yet.. speaking up in this environment can get you a one way trip to Gitmo.

It's an interesting dilemma. I wonder if the US will end up with an underground.. a Solzhenitsyn style network of samizdat. Nothing would surprise me anymore.


Hel, I understand what you mean.. and I have a hard time with the same thing. When to speak up and when to remain silent can be a real challenge.


Thomas, that's a good quote, too! One of her best.




Carla said...

Wow! This is a very powerful piece. I have recently had a couple conversations with a friend on how silence contributed to Hitler's success in Germany. Scared or not, when no one speaks up, things only seem to get worse. It's a thoughtful reminder to not forget the power of our voice. It always amazes me though that when I have a conversation of this sort how after, things like your blog tie in so perfectly with the thoughts I was having. It's as if everything is connected.

enigma4ever said...

first I need to say thank you, because I don't know you but I stumbled here via another blog- and the quote on this page is so poignant...for me and the times that we are enduring in America. ( this is enigma4ever from over at Watergate Summer.) I did also include you in my blog round up this weekend because I think you have a wonderful blog and I felt the need to share that with others I hope you don't mind..

In the US I think there are so many problems right now- and repression and yes, silence that actually ironically actually fed to the loss of rights. I am at a loss as to how to remedy this, except to still encourage people to speak and to know that the US and how it is seen around the world, and Americans are seen is a serious problem and it was all brought on by a corrupt criminal govt.

This I do know...that there are places in the world where people communicate with more freedom and more respect, and the issues you present here are all matters of the heart and the mind, and are worth closer examination when they become fragile in a pollitcal state...

( sigh, sorry to ramble- I wish I was as eloquent as Howard Zinn....)

thank you for your blog....and and thoughtful posts.

Anonymous said...

I found this blog through a google search, looking for quotes on silence. I realize a year has passed, but I wanted to send you kudos for a very thought provoking blog.