Silences

I’ve been pretty silent on social media lately, and on this blog. I used to speak up about current events, social practices, academic theory, morality, etc. But for the last two years, I haven’t spoken up. I’m not sure why. There’s a lot of discomfort within me because of this.

After reading Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity through the Renaissance (1997) by Cheryl Glenn, I have some ideas about what my silence might mean. Her book is about recognizing female writers and their rhetorics in an attempt to prove that women were not necessarily silent in history, but that they were writing, speaking, and contributing to public discourses.

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Her final chapter muses about the different ways we can characterize silence.

  1. Silence might be a deliberate and positive choice.
  2. Silence may not be golden and we have an obligation to speak up.
  3. Silence might be resistance.
  4. Silence can be a position, to demonstrate power by forcing others to worry, wait, wonder or fill the gap and start a conversation.
  5. Silence can be a presence as well as an absence.
  6. Silence can be employed on our own time, agenda, and context.

I’m still not sure exactly why I’ve been silent, when so much of what is happening has upset, confused, and angered me. Maybe I’m not ready to speak. Maybe I’m resisting. Maybe I feel silenced by others. Maybe I’m not yet sure what to say or if my words will do any good.

I have found that I feel better about some things when I speak up. I’ve spoken up in individual situations recently, when people have told me what to think about rape or politics or feminism. I speak my truth. I calmly tell them what I know to be true. I don’t let them school me. And I feel better when I do this.

Are you silent or speaking up these days? Why?

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23 thoughts on “Silences

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  1. I remain silent for the most part unless I feel my speaking up may be heard and do some good. I usually speak up in small groups and not in the social media arena. Great Post Today! Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  2. Very good topic! I went dormant myself about three months ago…around the beginning of summer. I can’t say exactly why. Partly because I I was burned out with blogging. Also the time simply got away from me: one week went by then another then a month and by then my desire to blog had fallen to zero. I stayed active by commenting here and there, but I simply couldn’t get up the energy to put a blog together. I’m now trying to get back into the swing of it all. I do all of my venting, especially against the current political regime, with my comments. I do have a blog in the works that discusses the horror of the Trump presidency, but it’s slanted toward the effects it has on writing and/or the writer. It may never get published! 🙂

    On your reasons for silence? Whatever the reason, I think it’s okay. And, I’m glad as always to hear your voice. :-). Thanks for sharing.

    1. Paul, I think your blog about the Trump presidency sounds fascinating and timely. I hope you decide to publish it, but I understand the impulse not to do so. I think my silence on the blog started with the busyness of finishing my PhD and being on the job market, and then adjusting to being a professor. But it has continued even after that adjustment, in terms of political/social issues, my silence continues because of several reasons. 1) I’m afraid. Speaking up about the current political climate is so divisive and I’m very strongly against Trump. I don’t want the backlash. 2) I’m tired. It feels like it doesn’t matter what I say or do. The horrors continue. I had an emotional meltdown amidst the news of the children being held in detention at the borders. I was hysterical and my husband had to calm me down and suggested that I stop looking at the news and social media for a while. I did, and that helped, but I also felt guilty for not being involved. It is such a hard time to be an “activist” because it never ends and it doesn’t seem to solve the big problems. 3) I don’t know how to make sense of it all. I’m so confused. I am flabbergasted at the support this president receives and how people turn a blind eye to the problems. I feel like I’m throwing my hands up in disgust and confusion every single day.

  3. I’m usually silent. I like to listen to and watch others, until I know exactly how I feel about something. Then I might speak if I have a chance, or there’s a reason to.
    You’ll speak when you’re ready to. 🙂

  4. To answer your question: often, I’m silent. I think it can be more eloquent and more powerful to be silent than to spill too many words. The tectonic plates of the world have shifted; they really have, since the turn of the century/millennium. Silence is a way of gathering energy: it is central to yoga practice. Those of us who care about the world, the earth, our fellow human (and other) beings are going to need all our energy.

    1. This is lovely. I agree. Silence can be powerful and it can be a way of gathering energy for when it is needed. I’m also grateful to the people who speak up when I want to and can’t. There are some warriors out there doing the work I don’t yet have the energy for!

  5. I enjoyed reading this today. People often tell me I am such a quiet person. However, once they get to know me, if they take the time, then they know that I have much to say. Often I am silent because others are so busy talking that they never listen. Thank you for writing these thoughts.

    1. You’re right. Those of us who are naturally quiet are often talked over. Did you ever read Susan Cain’s book Quiet, about introverts? It was a good one!

  6. This is an intriguing idea to ponder. I am frequently silent. As an introvert, I want to think before I speak. In those situations, I view silence as a positive choice. I do not feel I should be forced to speak before I am ready.

    I am also frequently silent because too many people see only one side of an issue, and I can often see both sides. Most of the issues of our day are complex. They cannot be dealt with simply or quickly in sound bites, though many people try. In those situations, my silence is because I cannot engage easily, so I choose not to engage at all. That might not be a courageous choice, but one has to pick one’s battles. Sometimes explaining the complexity is not worth it, because others will not listen.

    And finally, there are times when I choose silence because I choose not to offend. Sometimes that is wise (with close relatives or friends or others where the relationship is worth more than making a point), and sometimes it is not.

    The item in your list I need to consider further is when silence is a presence as well as an absence. This is true. When have I used silence as a presence? Maybe I should do it more.

    Thanks for making me think.

    Theresa

    1. I’m glad this gave you something to ponder. And I like that you can see both sides. I can too, and that often confuses me. I bet if you spoke up and used that gift you have for seeing both sides you could be helpful to others.

  7. In life as well as in literature, silence is loaded with multiple meanings.The case when silence is not golden is in class, when students are supposed to speak up and out. Though John Cage claimed that there is no such thing as silence, there are limits to metaphors. Silence is a response to traumatic events in Abdulrazak Gurnah’s novel “The Last Gift”, the last gift being his confession to his wife and children before his death. The message is that it is better to speak up rather than to keep things to oneself.

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