Updated: Jul 24
Hello and welcome to this glorious Saturday, July 4, 2020! Today is a rare and precious day that will never come again. But who cares? I think we all do.
I saw a post on Facebook a few days ago that received some negative, bitter and even hateful comments which got under my skin. The comments angered me, not the post. The post displayed a picture of a masked protester holding up a sign stating, “Silence is Violence.” I won’t repeat any of the opposing comments – use your imagination. Considering my academic graduate studies in social justice, I agree: silence could indeed be interpreted as violence in many situations. I’m reminded of a few quotes that I try to live my life by:
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” — Elie Wiesel
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” — Archbishop Desmond Tutu
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” — Dr Martin Luther King Jr
We are living in a time when the conditions of a few require the attention of the many. Hence, we find people speaking up. And in speaking up, we sometimes imply that silence does not dissuade the tormentor. I think this is right. But what I couldn’t understand was why I was so emotionally triggered – angry – with the antagonistic opinions attached to the Facebook post.
I meditated on my reaction to the comments for a few days and I feel like I found some clarity.
While I was in graduate school studying food and social justice, I found myself quite angry at the world we were (are) living in. In studying the food market, I discovered many unpalatable truths about how the globalized food industry exploits the land and oppresses people – even to the point of slavery. Slavery. Slavery in the US?! The United States is no exception!
So, I experienced anger! This anger took on many forms. Mostly, I was righteous in my ways, and words. I believed that the answer to the global food crisis was organic, locally grown food, which I’m discovering is only possible in agriculturally fertile areas, an area where I just so happened to live. Living in such a fertile area made it very easy for me to be right. During this time, the only people I convinced of my new enlightened view were those who already agreed with me. Nevertheless, I passive-aggressively tried “guilting” people into food reform. Though my intentions were good, I feel a little shame (Ha – last week) for my uncompassionate nearsightedness.
When I truly listen to the concerns of others regarding the food industry, I find that they really do care. Very much so. I also find that many people have no idea just how unhealthy, exploitive and oppressive the globalized food system is – hence the need for speaking up. Nevertheless, I’m seeing that just because one makes unhealthy food choices doesn’t mean that they don’t care. How many unhealthy choice
s have I made for myself despite knowing better? I assure you, the list is long. Regardless, I cared.
Considering the aforementioned quotes, I’m afraid that sometimes silence is equated with indifference. I’m afraid that sometimes it is inferred that just because one is not speaking up against injustice, violence, exploitation and oppression, they don’t care. Is this why so many Facebook commenters cringed at the notion that silence is violence – it was implied that they don’t care? I believe that people do care! The fact is, I have not publicly held a sign or marched in protest for any cause [ever], nevertheless, I care. Deeply! If someone were to tell me that I don’t care because I haven’t “protested” against [whatever the cause], my inclination would be to defend myself. I seriously doubt that I would rush out, make a sign and join the marching masses. Insinuating that I don’t care might just shame me, fortify my silence and force me to further isolate myself from the issue.
While I wholeheartedly believe that it is vital to encourage others to speak up against tyranny, we must remember that each person has limits on what they have the capacity to do and to not make the assumption that if they are quiet, it suggests that they are indifferent, or don’t care. I also believe that in their own way, many people are in fact speaking up in such a manner that is not easily heard. While there are a few who sadly continue to consciously support oppression, I believe in my heart that most people genuinely care – even in their silence.
I care about you, I love you, and there isn’t anything you can do about it.
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