What I don’t mean by this, is about the forced or coerced silence of marginalized people. Being silenced and silencing others has no value.
I will talk about the value of silence as a means to open up a space for listening. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to be listening in (in a public forum) on some great discussions about social justice, particularly (but not exclusively) as it relates to racism. It has been an interesting experience because I’ve largely been observing. There have been many, many times where I spent time writing up a response to something I read, only to delete it. Shit, if I’d spent the time drafting responses actually writing stuff that I posted, I’d have much more content (everywhere).
In all cases, as I watched the discussions unfold, I was very, very happy that I maintained my biyuti and kept silent. Why? Because I was able to keep an open mind and not commit myself to a position before seeing many different perspectives on it. Because I gave myself space and time to interrogate my emotional responses and grow. Basically, I was able to get educated.
In many of the spaces where I read things and learn about social justice from, I’m what is known as a lurker. I rarely comment and generally stay out of discussions. Part of this was out of an understanding that I simply didn’t have the time or energy to engage everyone about all the things. This is especially true because I read many, many blogs (or whatever) that are outside of my own lived experience, making me very ignorant in many ways. So. I read, I listen, and I’m silent.
One thing I find interesting is how many of us activists (or humans of the marginalized variety) will repeatedly say that it isn’t our responsibility to educate others. But we still do. Our discussions and interactions with each other (when observed by outsiders) provides the perfect educational platform. It is not a method of education taught in schools nor is it really thought of as a way to educate others, yet for those willing to put their egos and feelings aside, it can be places where the most can be learned.
Of course, it can be near impossible and very difficult to shut the hell up. No, really. It can be hard to watch a debate unfold, particularly if parts of it trigger you or you are emotionally invested in, and say nothing. But my silence has taught me to listen better. It has taught me how to approach situations with more humility. It has taught me how to centre the dialogues and experiences of others.
Importantly, I’ve learned that some of my emotional responses can come from places of privilege (and make me want to deny this privilege). It is in these moments that I better understand those who oppress me. It is so incredibly easy to react emotionally, jump into a discussion, and end up with your ass hanging out (and this happens to us all. The solution? A sincere apology and maybe more time spent listening). However, it is precisely because of privilege that jumping in without thought is easy. And privilege needs to constantly be checked and interrogated.
So. Silence. It is valuable. In these busy times, the noise of all the activities can be deafening. But taking time to sit down, shut the hell up, and listen creates one of the most productive spaces to be in. Realizing that silence can be weaponized by oppressive assholes is important. So is realizing that being silent can aid in your liberation and education. Silence can free you. It can educate you. It can tell those you care for just how much you respect their voice. It is, after all, the other half of communication.