Does silence hold power?

“Why don’t we speak?”

This question was posed in a discussion during my class about intersectionality a few weeks ago. It’s what my professor would call a “wicked” question… open-ended in nature, with no clear answer, and which leads to imaginative discussion.

We spoke about privilege in spaces of intentional dialogue. I shared that sometimes I hesitate to speak because I want to be conscious of my privilege. Because of my privileged identities, society provides multiple spaces to raise my voice. But not all voices are heard or valued, so I consider how I might make more room for other voices. This is not to say that I never speak up, but that I feel it’s important to be cognizant and intentional about when I choose to speak up. Conversely, another individual explained that she sometimes refrains from speaking because she doesn’t want to be stereotyped as a minority that always bitterly shares her point of view.

We spoke about insecurity. Some of us mentioned that we feared our words lacked value, thus preventing us from sharing.

We spoke about privacy and choice. Some participants mentioned practicing autonomy by  intentionally concealing information and choosing precisely what to share. I found a sense of power in this.

Often, I am inclined to think that speaking up is powerful. Sharing your voice is a way to exercise your power. And it is. Before this class discussion, however, I hadn’t yet thought of silence as power. Choosing to NOT share your voice can also be powerful. Choosing to remain silent so that you can focus on listening and learning is powerful. Choosing not to speak so that other voices can be heard is powerful.

Of course, using power can be both beneficial and hurtful. Choosing to remain silent in spaces of injustice is a harmful use of power. Choosing not to share your voice through your VOTE is an abuse of your power to generate change (If you haven’t yet, VOTE. You know it’s the right thing to do). Some systems exist to silence certain voices- use yours wisely so that those systems change. 

There is no clear formula on when or when not to speak, when to use your voice or remain silent.  But know that your choice to speak or not speak holds power.

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