The Art of Silence
Updated: Jun 14, 2020
Silence is not often thought of as a craft or talent, as the definition of silence is the absence of sound. Due to its basic nature, many people don't consider it inherently important, or at least don't consider it to be wholly relevant in their lives. Because this is true, we as human beings struggle to master this concept. Our innate longing to be heard compels us to speak our minds in any and every situation, especially in this era of social media. It's so easy to hop on a computer or our phone and tell the world our thoughts on any given topic, whether they are wanted or not. Everyone and their brothers (including the Bros) are starting podcasts to get their voices out there. This culture shift has really pushed silence to the background, especially in light of all that has transpired in 2020. I think there are some really important themes to learn and grow when it comes to this topic, so in light of that; it's time to SPEAK OUT on SILENCE!
As an introvert, silence is basically my default mode. Just thinking about the potential conflict and awkwardness that comes with conversation causes me to cringe. Combined with the harrowing thoughts of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, it really takes a lot of mental fortitude for me to have meaningful conversation with someone face to face. While I haven't studied the meaning of silence, or taken a vow of silence, or locked myself in a castle on a mountain alone to experience it for years, I've had an inner struggle regarding when I should stay silent and when to break that silence going on in my head my entire life. Those struggles came to a head with the recent events starting with the death of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020. Watching the horrifying video of a law enforcement officer so nonchalantly squeezing the life out of a subdued man begging for his life was enough to illicit feelings out of anyone, and if it didn't, you just might be a sociopath. The events that unfolded days later just added to that queasiness, as protests turned into riots, and the major city that many of us Infinity Bros are close to was filled with chaos. Looting, vandalism, and arson plastered the news for days, as we all sat in shock of what was going on around us. Silence was my natural reaction, as I was having a hard time processing my feelings about the whole situation. As the hours ticked by, more and more people started to voice their opinions and musings of what was going on around the nation. Some people expressing their outrage on police brutality and the murder of George Floyd, and some people fuming about the riots that had broken out in many cities. As tensions in the real world rose, tensions on social media followed suit, with discussions, debates, and arguments breaking out on every extended family member's posts. Assumptions, insults, and hate were all seething throughout any social media timeline that you chose to peruse, and they all still remain prevalent as protests continue throughout the nation. It began to become more and more evident that I wasn't going to be able to remain silent much longer.
There are a few types of silence that I have observed over the past few weeks. They range from inherently evil to good, and even progressive. Believe it or not, there is healthy silence, and when silence is used correctly, it can lead to positive development in our lives. The difficulty lies in differentiating when that silence is applicable, and when it is or is not beneficial in situations. There are four iterations of silence that I have seen: silence of intention, silence of destruction, silence of fear, and silence of learning.
The first iteration, silence of intention, is the most deadly silence of all. This is when we see there is injustice, and we actively remain silent to further our agenda or desires, even when we know it is wrong. My favorite superhero is Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man. One of his gravest mistakes and regrets was when he allowed a burglar to get away with money that he earned, but was refused. That burglar turned out to be the murderer of his Uncle Ben, and one of his motivating factors to become Spider-Man. He knew it was wrong to allow that burglar to steal the money, and yet his own pride and selfish desires kept him from doing the right thing. Those actions had consequences; and while it wasn't his fault that the burglar killed his uncle, if he had stopped him, it probably wouldn't have happened. Hence his famous motto: "With great power, comes great responsibility." If we have the power and the means to stand up against injustice when we know it is wrong, we have a responsibility to do so. Many people may be experiencing friends and family expressing some very heated viewpoints throughout this predicament; sometimes, those "viewpoints" are just flat out hate towards another person or persons. It would be easy to avoid conflict to keep the peace in the family, or avoid losing a friend; but if you don't speak up against it, it appears that you condone that point of view, even if that isn't true. This especially applies lately, as many people have been expressing opinions that originate from a racial bias. As my good friend and Infinity Bro Mark Jones once said when I was confronted with this type of issue, "It's time to stand up. That mentality is what keeps racism alive." When you know something is wrong or unjust, it is not the time for silence.
The second type of silence is the silence of fear. This form of silence is somewhat related to the first type, silence of intention. I would suggest that there is a different motivation behind this type, however. There is risk involved in just about anything we do in life; it may be slim to none for some things, but it's still there. We weigh those risks in our mind, and make our decisions based on if we think it is worth the risk. This is the struggle within the silence of fear. While we may believe something is wrong, the lines are sometimes blurred. Not every issue is black and white, and that uncertainty is where fear lies. Fear is a driving force in many people's lives, unfortunately. Fear of rejection, fear of other people's perception, fear of missing out - you can even go to extremes in this type, such as fear for health, fear for safety, and fear for life. One example of silence of fear is The Incredibles. They are a family of superheroes that are forced into hiding because the society they live in makes being a superhero illegal. They obviously believe they can help people as superheroes, but they initially suppress their powers to "fit in" with the world around them. Because there are various motivations and levels of this type of fear, it's easy to blur this one into silence of intention, as people who are silent due to fear often know that their silence is wrong. This is where risk comes into play. What is at stake in the situation? Is it worth staying silent and not voicing your opinion, if there are consequences to speaking out? Victims of abuse are often confronted with this dilemma. They may know that what is happening in a given situation is wrong, but speaking out at that particular time may have severe consequences for them or loved ones. In some cases, they have even been manipulated into thinking that there isn't anything "wrong" in that situation, so remaining silent just avoids any more conflict. Remaining silent because we are afraid of retaliation may not be the "right" thing to do in an ethical sense, but in a practical sense it may help someone survive another day so they can speak up for themselves or someone else down the road. This is why it is so important for us to speak up if we see injustice around us. While a victim may feel like their hands are tied, an outside observer may be in a better position to speak out on what is happening in any given situation. We just need to keep in mind the consequences that other people around us may suffer based on our actions, and make the best decision based on the risk involved. The Incredibles found that hiding who they were as superheroes was not as important as helping those who they could. We need to follow suit and overcome our fears to fight the injustice around us, and in our own lives.
The third form of silence is the silence of destruction. We've talked about how silence can be damaging; but this type of silence is almost the opposite. Have you ever been so angry at someone or something, that you just spewed out everything that was in your head, and hurt someone with what came out? Whatever it was may not have even been intentional, and you may not even believe it, but what is spoken out loud can't be taken back, and can destroy relationships and trust. Black Bolt is the leader of the Inhumans, a race of genetically altered superhumans. His power is his voice - due to the connection in his brain of electrons to his voice, he can emit powerful shockwaves by simply speaking. A whisper is powerful enough to shake a ship, a word can level mountains, and if used to his full potential, his voice could destroy entire planets. While our voices can't do physical damage, they certainly are capable of doling out emotional damage. This form of silence is challenging to master, as foresight is required to assess what potential damage could be done by what we say. The Bible has a lot to say on this topic; James speaks to it in his letter, in chapter 3, verses 5 and 6: "Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." If we are able to discern when to stay silent when we are about to burst, it could save us from burning down bridges in our life.
Silence of learning is the last type of silence. When we don't understand how to empathize with or even how to console or encourage someone who is suffering, the best thing we can possibly do is to sit down, shut up, and listen. Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, is a man of few words. An accident as a child blinded him and heightened his other senses, especially his hearing. He doesn't say much, because instead of filling the air with empty words, he is listening to everything around him. If we are talking and telling other people what we think, it becomes very difficult for us to learn from other people at the same time. Do you know anybody in your life who seems to be an expert on every subject, and happens to have an opinion on every little thing? Yeah...don't be that person. Even if they have the very best intentions, it comes off as insensitive to what other people are going through, and is annoying at the least. Now that doesn't mean that we should only speak when we are experts on the subject, but it does mean that we need to be careful about what we say and who we say it to. Our own opinions and experiences may be completely different from the next persons, and we need to take into account that we can't see things from their point of view. It's okay to not know everything. Take some time to listen to people with different experiences. This is how we learn how to empathize with those who are suffering. Telling someone it'll be okay or things will get better isn't even remotely close to spending time with them and letting them tell you about their problems. Let's all take a lesson from Daredevil, and listen before we speak.
How we doing here folks? You still with me? Well let's wrap it up so you can get on with your day. Silence is a difficult subject, because it needs to be applied differently in certain situations. While the use of silence is important, the absence of silence, or speaking out, is just as vital to our growth as human beings. This means it's up to us to discern when to correctly apply silence in each situation. And the only way we can correctly apply it, is to know what it is and how it works in the first place. It really boils down to holding every thought captive before releasing it. Is what I'm going to say be beneficial to the people around me? Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians 10:5, "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." Racism surely falls into the category of against the knowledge of God, as every man, woman, and child is created in the image of God.
I implore you all who have a voice to use it. I'm from Minnesota, where a large majority of the population is white. I was listening to a message the other day by Miles McPhereson, a pastor in San Diego. He is a black guy, speaking to a church in Minnesota that is largely white. He says "White voices are more powerful than black voices." Now he isn't saying that white voices are more important; he goes on to say that because of our society and the culture in our country, people who are white are listened to and believed more than people who are black. This means that it is extremely important for white people to speak out against racial injustice, wherever we see it. We as a society have been guilty of staying silent for too long.
Jesus was a dude who didn't stay silent. He spoke up about the injustices that were around him at the time. He had something that we don't have though; an unconditional love for every single person that has and ever will live on earth. Everyone is of enormous value in his eyes, even the looters, rioters, racists, and people taking advantage of this whole situation. If we can see everyone around us as Jesus sees them, it will begin to help us observe, listen, learn, and speak out when it is needed, and do it in love for our fellow people. I'll leave you with one last thought: 1 Corinthians 16:14 says, "Let all that you do be done in love." Take every thought captive, and make sure that whether you're speaking out or staying silent; let it be done in love for the people around you.
Isaac Edlund is not normally this long winded, but didn't want to stay silent. He's also just a normal white dude who has a lot to learn.