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.