Thursday, July 24, 2008

Is Silence Complicity?

The discussion yesterday got me to thinking about something. QT made a statement that kept me in thought most of the day. She said: [...]You say actions speak louder than words. Well, what is interesting about this comment is that the words of others can sometimes paint you with the same brush simply because you are an acquaintance of that person. I am a firm believer in free speech. I don't believe it is MY job to police what others say.[...]

I fundamentally agree with this. Completely. I believe we are all responsible for our own actions and our own words. No one else is accountable for what we say or do. We are. Alone.

Taking this completely out of the realm of what we were discussing yesterday, I thought of two events that have taken place in my life during the past week.

The first event was on the phone. I was having a long conversation with someone I don't talk to often. She kept using racial slurs. I asked her politely to stop.. the first time. The second time I told her that there is no room in my life for such talk and that if she didn't stop, I would end the call.

The second event was perhaps a week ago - or so. I sat in a group of people who put down another group of their same ethnicity but different nationality. It would be comparable to Irish-Americans putting down German-Americans. In that case, I did nothing and said nothing.

So much of this stuff is situational and I recognize that. What I'm interested in exploring is the notion of complicity. Because I sat there in the group and said nothing, does that make me complicit in prejudice? Because I said something during the privacy of my phone conversation at home, does that make me less complicit?

Coming from the basic position that I am not responsible for anyone else's words or actions other than my own, at what point did or do I have a duty to say something? Or do I have that responsibility at all? I know I'm not a racist. I know I don't use racial slurs. Does it stop there?

And is it right for others to assume that I feel similarly, just because I sat there in that group meeting or because I didn't immediately hang up on the person I was talking with at home?

It's an interesting dilemma. What would you do in similar circumstances? What are your thoughts?


Tomorrow (Friday), I have a celebration at the wat and then another long meeting afterward. It's going to be really hot that day and I wish it could be another time. Ever since I had shingles, my heat tolerance is zero to nil. Still, I have to be there. That means I won't be here. So.. I'll see you all Saturday or Sunday. Put out a positive thought for us that it won't be another Showdown at the OK Corral and that it will run smoothly, that we can resolve all these "issues".

See you then!

Oh.. one more thing: I will be having a guest poster here soon. Stay tuned!

Have a good couple of days. Feel free to chew the fat with each other in the comments section if you like. :)

One more thing. I am cleaning up my blog roll. I've gotten rather lazy about it since Google Reader came about. I am removing the folks who no longer come around - or those I no longer read - and those who haven't posted in eons. If you'd like to check it out, make sure you are on it if you want to be - or you would like me to add you, please go here and leave a comment. Thanks. :)


Angeline said...

I don't believe that Silence is Complicity...need I say more?

Anonymous said...

I think your question "is it right for others to assume..." gets to the heart of this gray area.

It's not right, but some will. Most likely those who are less accepting in the first place.

No matter how steadfast we are, we can't live our lives correcting others. Geez, how arrogant.

Live your own lives, speak your own truths, set an example and let your light be a beacon.

niobe said...

I probably wouldn't say anything at the time. Unless it was something like "Wow, that's fascinating. Why do you think people have such negative views of group X?".

But I probably also would avoid that person/those people in the future.

Defiantmuse said...

I was actually thinking about this very topic a lot last night. In fact it was an idea for a post I'm trying to write by the weekend :)lol.

we_be_toys said...

I don't think silence necessarily indicates complicity, but I think it can be and often is perceived as such.

There are times it is dangerous to speak your mind, and as a pagan in a sea of Judeo-Christian sects, I am always mindful of the potential haters around me. We have a constitutional right to freedom of speech and religion in this country, but it doesn't keep folks from burning crosses in the yards of others (which just happened here recently). I do what I can to promote tolerance and acceptance, but I have to bear in mind that a witch hunt is always potentially on the horizon.Sometimes silence is how you live to do your work another day.

Kymberli said...

Good question. I think that sometimes silence is more powerful than words, and when that silence is paired with the right actions, there might not even be a point to words.

I think what you do with the silence is more important that the silence itself.

Carla said...

Well, you picked another very interesting one. There is actually an American woman who has done a lot of work in schools and universities on just this topic. (sorry, but I can't remember her name at the moment). I had the opportunity to observe how she creates a situation in the classroom so that those of us who aren't exposed to racism on a regular basis experience it. She also demonstrates how in these situations most people say nothing and allow the injustice to continue. It raised a lot of questions. One could understand very easily how, for example, a situation like Nazi Germany could happens. When situations progress to a certain point, it then becomes too late or dangerous to make your stand without you yourself then being targeted. She made a really good point that if we see an injustice, and do nothing, even if we don't agree with it, we are enabling an evil to continue. It's not that there is more evil in the world than good, it's just that it is more active and those with lots of good tend to be more complacent and not want to get involved in others business. But she argued that we have to stand up and say something if we want some of these things to change. We will give power and courage to others who see injustices to do the same. Now I've gone on for quite a bit, but to see her in action was incredible. Everyone left her class changed and I guarantee that they will never forget her. Of course I realize that there are situations where we may not speak up, but I have kept this in mind ever since. Good post.

Carla said...

Just to clarify, what this woman was dealing with was not those gray areas of right or wrong. It was overt racism and the way in which we might make one feel less worthy or accepted as a human based on race or perhaps sexual orientation or even religion. Her message was clearly that we all deserve to be treated with a certain amount of respect and dignity simply because we are human. She plead for tolerance and respect for our beautiful diversity as humans.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I wondered about the same issue in a recent post in which a bank teller made a remark about gay people. It offended my sensibilities but I said nothing on that occasion because of the circumstances and also the fact that the woman doesn't really impact my life meaningfully.

I think it's a matter of choosing our battles, and also how egregious the remark is. In a public forum, there is always the option to leave, which makes a clear statement, too.

QT said...

I guess you already know what I think, but I think the closer I am to the person, the more likely I would be to speak to them about whatever they said. But I don't know that I would choose to do it *at that time*.

It is a tough one.

Amy Y said...

I have a hard time being confrontational in these situations. If someone were being verbally attacked in my presence, it would be different but in these situations, though I may not agree with what's being said, I don't know if I'd have the strength to put myself out on the line and say something or do something about it. Even if I really really wanted to... I'm weak in this area.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

It's interesting. I think it goes back to the Sai Baba quotation again. I find that most racial remarks come from ignorance, often with hatred breeding that ignorance. If there will only be confrontation, I will walk from the conversation or do as you did. If I believe the person just doesn't understand what they are saying, then I will be gentler and explain that the expression is hurtful and harmful. If the person is clearly not going to be interested in change or is violent, I would usually just walk away.

meno said...

No, silence is not complicity. Sometimes it's just the best we can do right then. Sometimes it's smart.

But the doesn't mean it's not okay to speak up.

slouching mom said...

i guess i think it depends on how high the stakes are. in other words, is there potential for a person or people to be harmed?

if so, yes.

jen said...

i don't think it's either/or, this topic. i think sometimes people create their own BS and others are not compelled to involve themselves in it.

and sometimes it's more dangerous, sitting by and watching others suffer and not doing anything, like we do every day by our actions in allowing others to suffer from poverty, homelessness, etc. what about that silence?

Maithri said...

What a provocative question my friend,

I think silence can be complicity.... I remember those words "Evil prospers when the good do nothing"...

I think defending the absent is one of the most beautiful ways of breaking cycles of hatred...

Having said that...I dont think its black and white..there are situations where it might bring more peace to stay silent...

I guess the art is knowing when to speak and when to stay silent.

Love and peace, M