Silence. It holds tremendous power. I have read, witnessed, and expressed the power of silence when silence was the only true answer. But I have also read, witnessed, and unfortunately, expressed the fault of silence when silence was the wrongest answer.
My favorite example of a powerful, timely silence response will forever be Jackie Robinson.
When Robinson integrated the Major Baseball League, he was silent for over two years. The press received silence, the fans and opposing teams who tormented him only received his silence. His power lied in silence. All the haters (if you will) had to go off of was his action. Robinson outplayed everyone. But, his feats on the diamond were not the only action that his silence highlighted. It was also the lack of reaction to the pitchers who threw baseballs at his head, the lack of reaction to fans who spat on him and yelled slurs, and the lack of reaction when the umpire purposefully made wrong calls.
When the moment came years later that Robinson would speak, everyone could do nothing but listen. That is how to use power in the name of strength and purpose.
My personal experience with silence as the wrong answer is one that I still regret. It is one that still angers me, not because of what occurred around me, but because I sat silent.
It was 2017, my senior of high school, before a soccer game. Twenty minutes before kick-off, my coach rounded my teammates and me. All twenty-something of us sat in a huge circle facing each other.
The reason for the circle was explained and I can remember confusion and fear emerging in my mind, a deep twist in my gut emerged. But I thought to myself: I had done nothing wrong.
Slowly, one by one, everyone took their turn saying what was on their mind. Everyone had the same topic: me. I sat there and listened as my teammates, whom I thought I had great relationships with, spit venom directly into my face. I have never experienced such disdain for someone like that ever… And here I was sitting silent allowing them to throw their stone of disdain directly at me.
It was a public stoning and my coach sat there silent. That was an abuse of power, the ability to step in and correctly silence the venom never occurred. My confidence was shattered. But I sat there silent, listening to everyone explicitly take their turn and take their time explaining why they did not like me and what exactly it was that made them not like me. I had to remind myself that I did nothing wrong; I started and ended every game, I was captain, I praised my teammates, I prayed with my team.
Including myself, only four people passed up their turn.
Three years later I still regret not speaking up for myself. My silence was not the right answer. I deserved it to myself to not allow someone to belittle me like that, let alone in front of other people, and for who knows how many other people that were listening behind us.
I deserved it to myself to move when they threw their stones. I did not have to throw them back, I simply had to move. My silence was the wrong answer.
I should have been like the deacon Stephen and called out to God as they wrongfully stoned me (Acts 7:54-60), but I sat in that circle silent.
That day also showed me whenever I am in any position of power, be it leader or coach or team captain, never will I silence my voice the way my coach did that day. Never will let something so wrong occur before me and I sit silent allowing it to persist. I will not abuse my power like that. My coach could have spoken up and stopped my team from verbally ganging up on me as soon as it began but my coach allowed it to occur and persist.
Silence can show consent or approval in the wrongdoings of others. Silence can encourage, as it did my situation, people to continue their wrongdoings.
As I reflect, even more, I realize that now we are in a moment, we are in a shift where silence is not the correct answer.
Silence is the easy answer, whereas speaking up is a challenging, tough answer. We cannot have leaders and “normal” people like you and me sitting silent. It only hurts us all.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.
We all have been given the opportunity, the chance, the privilege to break the silence and speak up.
Use your voice. I have promised myself to never be pushed into silence like that again, nor will I allow myself to settle in silence like that again. So, here I am speaking up on this blog and in reality… and I’m encouraging you to do the same.
I seek to be like Jesus and Stephen: to be able to speak up, even in the midst of any type of pain and discomfort, and to call out to God for His wisdom, for His love, and just for Him to guide me in what to say. Like these two, I want to speak up! Again, I have no choice but to speak up.
If we do not speak up now, someone else will do it for us and then they will say all the wrong things that the only breakdown rather build up. Let’s strengthen and empower each other to break our silence.
I’m speaking up because I’m building bridges but I am especially breaking down these walls that silence built.