Silence: what it really means

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Core Decorum

 

 

 

 

 

 

If only silence were as easy as it seems. As immensely simple as it appears — the state of not doing something — silence continuously eludes the human race when it is most necessary. There are, of course, times when silence is decidedly the wrong choice, and these happen to coincide nicely with the times when it is easiest to keep our peace. Nonetheless there are instances where silence must be kept, despite all urges to the contrary. These moments of self-censorship are vital.

The worst place to speak, in fact, is the place where no one can literally open his mouth: the Internet. Think twice before posting that comment. Even the most harmless sentiment provides fertile ground for trolls and fanatics to poke fun or take offense. Yes, the Internet is a marvelous place for freedom of expression and the sharing of groundbreaking ideas. The Internet is also a great place to work yourself up into an unnecessary rage over a feud with a stranger. It does not matter if you are right. It does not even matter that you are the victim of some great imagined injustice. Is it worth ruining the rest of your day because someone disagrees with you on whether Han Solo shot first? No. Even if you answered yes, the answer is still no. Just no. Say no to Internet comment wars.

Family gatherings are another instance where it is often necessary to be silent. Of course, family is great. There is no better place to be than in the vicinity of those people you love most, and who love you just as much. And there is no worse place to allow disputes new and old to disrupt these relationships. Family gatherings are a time to appreciate one another and to enjoy one another’s company. But not every family member shares the same opinions and circumstances. Consequently, this means not taking the bait when Uncle So-and-So brings up politics and Cousin What’s-her-face lets slip her mid-semester grades. Steer clear of such dangerous waters, and focus the subject on a common interest, like hobbies and movies and weather. If your family is simply confrontational, never forget that there is always the option of silence. Even if no one is particularly aggressive, every group of people has that trigger that will cause some distress. The best way to navigate this treacherous path is to spend less time talking and more time listening.

The instance in which it is most necessary to keep silent is also the most difficult to discern. In the presence of authority figures there is a fine line between blatant disobedience and a principled stand. People who are naturally rebellious have no place sowing strife for their individual amusement; on the other hand, people predisposed to allow others to take charge do so at the risk of their own freedom to discern. An authority figure should only be opposed if he is abusing his authority. Having a dislike for a specific authority, or authority in general, does not warrant accusations of abuse. As a rule of thumb, though this is not necessarily applicable to every circumstance, only stand against authority on another’s behalf. This ensures that you do not act out of purely selfish motives. If you are merely angry at being told what to do, reconsider verbal dissidence. If you witness an authority abusing his power at the expense of another, it is justified to take action.

Despite these various instances when it is prudent to remain silent, silence is not always the answer. Do not forget the necessity of speaking up. There are people in the world who need your help; people who cannot speak for themselves; people who shout and shout, but are never heard; people who the world seems to forget. There are moments in which silence is the greatest sin of all: the sin of omission; the sin of apathy. Silence is not about never speaking. Silence is about making the words you say matter.

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