It was a common adage when growing up that “Children must be seen and not heard” and “Silence is golden”. There are many others, biblical as well, all suggestive of the wisdom of holding your tongue: fools speak and show their foolishness; the wise remain silent. Silence becomes an act of discipline, enforced in a classroom which should only be filled with quiet, unquestioning learners.
The social media age represents the opposite, with a platform for all, the fool and the learned, to articulate but in the real world holding your tongue earns safety in anonymity.
Parents and spouses learn to be silent and pick battles; it’s a natural part of relationship building and confrontation avoidance. Some may wield silence as a weapon—a little-known fact being that the brain registers silent treatment as physical pain and it is a form of psychological abuse.
Consistent silence can also have the double-edged effect of compounding problems and what may begin as an irritant can eventually become the source of separation and division.
People can be groomed into silence by structures and systems under the guise of loyalty or by threat, in which case, silence becomes a matter of survival. There are circumstances however when silence makes an individual complicit in criminal activities even when not directly involved.
It is this latter complicity, the determined looking away from the corrupt and immoral acts that permits the spread as the perpetrators are granted leave to persist.
As Catholics, there should be no grey area with regard to breaking the silence on activities and behaviours which are clearly in contravention of Church teaching. By our silence, we compromise our personal morality and integrity, forfeiting the possible benefit of, in some small way, changing what has become endemic amorality.
We are living in a time where there is almost a desperation for truth and change. Individuals and groups seek acknowledgement and validation for their experiences free from censure. More importantly, the desire is to make more transparent the injustices which were condoned through systemic silence.
We speak of millennials and their desire for core truth, and worry about their departure en masse from the practice of the faith. Perhaps, we can begin by looking critically as adults on what we have let slide by our silence, and the society we have created by our silent complicity.
As unfortunate as some of the revelations have been in different spheres, they provide a fertile ground for much-needed restructuring and/or shifting of individual perceptions of self and responsibility to society at large.