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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Silence

At a time when our country seems to be tearing itself apart; when divisions, political, racial, economic and religious are so wide as to seem irreparable it is difficult to see how we might navigate a passage to a more just and compassionate existence. Where we might even begin is hard to fathom as words, thoughts, prayers and even actions seem insufficient.

For me the place to start is within. Not for the first time, recent events have called me to examine my own thoughts and actions over a lifetime and I must report that have found sufficient cause to question any lip service I might pay to moral correctness. My purpose in this post is not to plead mea culpa, though it is true enough. Rather it is to call attention to the weakness of which I and many are guilty, silence.

Whether out of a desire to avoid conflict or appear over strident, I find that there are times I have been silent in the presence of those who have in a thoughtless or provocative manner said or acted in a way I know to be wrong. I have dissembled, distanced, looked away when what was needed was a clear and unmistakable response. I gave myself a pass in the interest of friendship or ‘peace’ and changed the subject or asked that we refrain from discussions that were offensive. On reflection, that was not only cowardly, it was in its own way as harmful as any words spoken or actions taken to diminish or demean another.

Why write about this now? I am not alone—although saying so does not in any way absolve me. To remain silent when one knows wrong is being done, regardless of the reason is not acceptable—but rather a perpetuation and tacit endorsement of the wrong itself. I cannot speak for others but must speak now and forevermore. Hatred, racism, and all the other prejudices persist not because most humans are fundamentally bad, but because most of us know better and yet remain silent. Bear with me please. Prejudice and hatred are learned. We may not be entirely responsible for what was intentionally or otherwise taught us but we know when we see something that is unjust, wrong, morally corrupt. It isn’t enough to tell ourselves so, or that we are better than that—it is our responsibility to speak out.

When we speak, we must guard against anger, or recrimination. That will change no minds, teach no one. How many times have we, perhaps unthinkingly, said or done something to hurt or harm another? It may be the same for those we encounter who do so in our presence—but speak we must and we must make clear that what has been said or done is not acceptable, that we will not tolerate or indulge inhumanity of any kind, for any reason. Collective silence is the soil in which hatred and prejudice flourish, and in this regard we are responsible for its perpetuation.

I know this is hard, if it were easy we would be prompted to speak out at every instant of injustice, however slight it might appear. I have a vision of what our country, our world could be if we all took this stance. The power of all our voices is insurmountable. So, as I put it to myself to be a resolute voice, to avoid the temptation to think of myself as just or above the fray, I call on us all to reflect and to speak out whenever and wherever we see division being bred. Call it out. Be clear, firm, and unrelenting in standing for what you believe—but avoid the labels and the laying of blame. Let us be bold about what is wrong, and why—and put aside party affiliation, creed, race and every other artificial distinction. Let us be silent no more.

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