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.

the politics of polarization

This Canadian is fascinated by the politics of our friends to the South.  I don`t pretend to understand the complicated voting process, despite repeated explanations from my American friends. I`m bemused at elections that take months and years rather than six weeks. And I`m amazed at the colourful personalities and characters that walk the politician`s stage. And, yes, I wonder how some got there in the first place. (Not that we don`t ask the same question of politicians in the great white north!)

First of all, a confession….

I`m a huge fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and yes, my political leaning is to the left. I love puns, and his mock head-lines contain some of the smartest and funniest. I shake my head at the ranting nonsense spewed out by some far-right commentators, so I chortle with glee when Stewart shows the absurdity and baselessness of their arguments. While all networks are fair game, he saves his best work for his nemesis – Fox News. Stewart does satire at its best, throwing levity into the heaviness of the daily news while exposing the truth with rapier wit.

But you can laugh at reality for only so long. The sobering reality is an ever-increasing polarization between Republicans and Democrats. For every calm, level-headed politician trying to promote dialogue and compromise, there is another greedily seeking the day`s sound-bite to prove to voters that she or he will not waver from their principles. The current debt ceiling crisis shows the dangers of defiantly digging in your partisan heels. Refusing to work towards a compromise produces a stale-mate. Refusing to dialogue deepens the divisions formed by vitriolic debate.

There are lessons for us all as we watch the drama unfold….