when silence is not golden

Dialogue respects diversity and never demands uniformity of thought. At it’s best, dialogue is a lively interchange of ideas, opening our minds and hearts to new thoughts. Our ideological perspective is tested, perhaps nudging us to tentatively turn a few degrees to the right or left of long-held assumptions.

Silence is an important part of dialogue. Silence is a gift of conversational space, given to the other so thoughts may be shared without interruption. Silence also allows us to listen well, in order to speak well.

For me, a good dialogue is energizing. Aggressive, verbal sparring, on the other hand, leaves me drained and depressed. My modus operandi in the face of confrontation is to shut up and shut down.

I’ve learned to stay clear from online bullies and trolls. (Ok, it’s easy to avoid both when you haven’t been writing much!) We can’t always avoid the everyday, conversational bullies. What if we aren’t given an opportunity to speak? What if we are so overwhelmed by an aggressive tone that we simply “clam up”? Is it better to be silent than to jump into what seems to be a useless argument? Is it better to simply tune out and let the person go on. And on. And on?

Silence is not always golden. Silence in the face of verbal aggression can feed the aggressor, leaving them free to boost their own ego by bullying and belittling others.

Which brings us to Donald Trump.

For Trump, it seems, silence is a useless vacuum. An empty space begging to be filled with his unique brand of stream of consciousness rants. One gets the sense that he never stops to think before he speaks, or bothers to listen to anyone but himself. He got away with it, in large part, due to the silence handed to him on a silver platter by Republican leaders scared of the consequences of not endorsing a legitimately chosen nominee.

Sr. Joan Chittister, in an article for the National Catholic Reporter titled Leadership is Lacking in this Election Cycle, addresses the dangers of this silence,

The election caravan of crude and crushing comments moved merrily along while Republican after Republican climbed meekly aboard, most of them eyes down, and, most of all, silent…Instead of “I cannot endorse that statement of Donald Trump, this kind of name-calling, that kind of ignorance,” what the country has gotten is silence from the very leaders who are supposed to be safeguarding the level of democracy in this country. There is not an elementary school teacher in this country who would have tolerated this kind of talk on the school playground, not a high-school debate coach who would have allowed such abuse from any of their teams to go on uncorrected, uncensored.

Silence, in order to ponder or listen, is golden. Silence, for a bully, is a golden opportunity.

8 thoughts on “when silence is not golden

  1. Mr Trump is a “warning”- to the US, to all of us that evil, however we define it, is alive and in the world. It is not solely the man himself but the leadership of the Republican Party along with the significant cadre of Mr Trump’s rabid followers. It is also present in the remnant of Mr. Sander’s “movement” who would disrupt whomever, whatever to signal their outrage at not “winning”.
    And yes, it “lives” more or less in all of us.
    It is the evil that will not listen and will mind/talk-over any mitigation, nuance, alternative, other. It is “evil” because at some point in the psyche it is a choice. It is evil because it excludes and seeks to destroy other, whether of view or person. It is evil because it is not about “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”; it is not just about “me” winning but “you” losing and “losing bad”. Worse… some…whom I term the “gurus of hate”, skillfully and often effectively pander to that vulnerability. They stand defiantly, smirking in the face of fact, truth, decency, reality. It has been rampant in the burning intent to destroy a decent President and at home, I believe, in a political leadership (and followship) that we have recently expunged.
    “Compassion” is an analogous reality that sadly becomes most obvious in its absence.
    Trump will lose but evil as I envisage it will have staked a major claim on the psyche and the soul of the United States, as never before.
    If I resist that particular evil that is within me; if I seek to recover from it and repair what damage I may have done, must I not stand and resist that evil wherever? The only question, I guess, is how?

    • Hi Dennis,

      For me, how to stand and resist evil is the key question. History shows us that silence is not the answer. Silence feeds evil.

      On the other hand, we are often told not engage with someone who is being irrational…to simply ignore the bully.

      There have been many voices warning the electorate of the danger of a Trump candidacy and (heaven forbid) presidency and yet here he is. He shouted down all of his opponents and bullied his way through the primaries. He not only threw political correctness out the window. He discarded any sense of moral decency or compassion. How do you talk to such a man?

      When dialogue fails, what next? In a democracy, we speak out with our vote. For all my friends in the US, I hope and pray that enough good people will shout out their dissatisfaction with Trump at the polls in November.

      • “When dialogue fails, what next?” I guess one “next” is to ask the question. It is not the whole answer, likely not even the best but it can be revealing. The “bully” whether of group, state, church tends to pose conclusions, declarations that stand upon the forcefullness, the “position” of the bully person. It is the opposite of “reason” because fact and the impelling rhythm of logic are irrelevant and, either absent or so weak that they cannot support the conclusion. This is where the media often let us down. They are frequently unwilling or unable to challenge and require fact, reason, consistency as a condition of continued access.
        Wish I had paid more attention to Logic 101.

      • Hubby and I were having a wonderful conversation with some young folk this past weekend. As we mourned the state of politics and general discourse, I raised the idea that Introduction to Logic should be compulsory in high school and university. There was quick agreement.

        Imagine a society where everyone has a basic grasp of what makes a good argument? Imagine if those seeking power could no longer get away with truth claims that are obvious fallacies, simply because they are louder or more billigerent? Imagine if journalists, media, and politicians were held accountable by a basic guideline of of solid reasoning?

        Maybe we should start a Logic 101 movement 😉…..

  2. The way I see Trump is that he has no recognition of his flaws. He appears totally unaware of his dark side. Because he is unaware of his shadow he puts it all out there, he says the most outrageously negative stuff and then is surprised at the reactions of others. He is just the right person, in him coalesces patriotism and shadow. When he speaks, he gives others the freedom also to release this collective shadow. We in the US see ourselves as a nation that has the most generous people in the world, the nation that protects and frees other peoples. However, we have no problem with the “beast within”, i.e. torture, discrimination based on religion and skin color, blaming the poor for being poor which goes back to our Puritan roots. Canada other countries see our shadow and quake. If Trump could recognize and accept his shadow, we would not have to worry about the “beast within” that he, with very loud voice, in calling forth. This same “beast” is silencing many good people.

  3. Hi Ray,

    It’s so good to hear your voice! Thanks for this spot on observation. Not recognizing his flaws or shadow side is akin to lacking a moral compass. There have been some interesting psychological articles about Trump’s narcissism. How, oh how did he get to where he is….sigh…

    The fact that he is giving others the freedom to turn a blind eye to personal and national “shadows” is a very interesting concept.

    Canada IS seeing the shadow….and yes, we’re quaking….

  4. In June 2015, when Donald Trump made his epic statement about Mexicans and other immigrants bring crime into the country, I thought for sure he was finished and would be drummed out of the political scene. I had no doubt that there would be an outcry from the GOP and the public in general calling for him to end his presidential campaign. After all, others have disappeared from politics for making even less offensive statements. But there was silence! Crickets! (Meaning it was so quiet you could hear crickets chirping.) Maybe I live in a bubble but it shocked me—and still shocks—that the American people and the Republican Party were not outraged by this offensive statement made by Mr. Trump. But here we are over a year later and Mr. Trump is still around making almost daily outrageous and mostly untrue statements. And it saddens me to see the American public cheering and egging him on.

    Donald Trump is the monster that has been fashioned by those who engage in constant mean spirited, malicious, and base rhetoric. He is the sum of their hate speech. He is what resulted from those in the government who refuse to compromise. He is the product of those Americans who endorse bullies. He is the Frankenstein who is now out of control and beyond political redemption.

    Some of the silence on the part of Republicans is being broken by members of the GOP who now say they cannot endorse Mr. Trump and will not vote for him in the presidential election on November 8. However, this may be too little too late.

    President Obama gave a recent speech and when he mentioned Donald Trump’s name the crowd booed. Mr. Obama responded, “Don’t boo, vote!” This should be our mantra for the next few months. Booing and yelling “Lock her up!” is a waste of energy. We need to encourage our family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and our partners in faith to think deeply and seriously about the kind of America we want to live in and to hand over to future generations. And after examining our own conscience, go out and vote on November 8. Time to break the silence!
    Thanks for listening and sorry for being so long-winded!

    • Not long winded at all, Brian. Thank you for this spot on analysis! Hoping and praying that the people will speak loudly and clearly with their vote, and show the world that Trump and his like are the furthest thing from a “Great” America.

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