Take Courage In The Silence

Photography by: Kristina Flour on Unsplash

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill

The yelling is getting out of control. Voices on top of voices, screaming opinions that are barely discernible. The volume gets turned up a notch with every new chorister added to the chaos. There’s no harmony because the conductor is too busy watching cat videos to do a damn thing about the inexorable cacophony.

My head hurts, my heart aches, and I’m exhausted. I just want to stand on a soapbox and scream, “Shush!” Yes, I realize that I would become one more voice in an ocean of screaming voices. I’d add to the noise pollution rather than offer a solution. Chaos on top of chaos. 

My kingdom for a moment of silence! Do I have a kingdom? No, I have a tiny apartment that’s becoming a storage unit for useless objects. My collection of broken and forgotten toys is bordering on a diagnosable condition. But for a moment of silence? Oh, take it all or maybe just the stuff in the corner over there. No, the stuff in garbage bags. Yeah, that stuff right there.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying we shouldn’t stand up and yell out when an injustice is happening. There are things worth fighting for and without us, doing the right thing, what hope does the world have? We have to stand up and be counted but sometimes sitting down, being silent, can be just as powerful.

Perhaps, the problem with doing the right thing is that we don’t agree on what it is. To vaccinate or not? The right to choose or the right to life? Keep the country shut down to save lives or open it back up to save livelihoods? The right to carry a weapon or the right to life, liberty, and happiness? The right to pray in schools or pray on your own time? For every right, there is someone who’ll say it’s wrong. For every person who’s willing to lay down their lives for what is right; there’s someone who’s willing to take it for the same reason.

I have my opinions on these topics and on so many more but how do I know I’ve gotten it right? I know what my heart tells me. I know how I was raised. I know the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of the people I trust both. I know what scientists, philosophers, and people of varying faiths have to say. I’ve extrapolated my opinions from multiple sources, and I believe in what I know to be right.

But what if I’m wrong? What if I’m yelling into the void? My voice joining the chorus of other bleeding hearts but never hitting the right note. It’s possible. Logically, if I step back and take an objective look, there’s a chance that I’m wrong about something or everything. There’s a chance that I’m right. Oh boy! I’m sending myself into circles.

Does it even matter? If the news has taught me anything? Yelling over the objections of others can turn fiction into fact very quickly. We’ve all seen it happen. Deny, deny, deny, despite all evidence to the contrary, and truth becomes irrelevant. Facts don’t matter. The narrative that’s been created is more interesting than reality, so we run with it.

I think it’s called gaslighting?

I’m going to say something that I despise. Believe me, I’ll hate myself for using this phrase as much as you’ll cringe when you read it. Let’s all take a deep breath. In through the nose, exhale, and here we go: Fake news!

Arg, I gagged…Sorry, I’m okay. Let’s get on with it before another wave of repulsion hits.

It’s a phrase used to silence objectors and reject an uncomfortable narrative. It’s a distraction that, if used just right, drives a wedge through the fragile ground. The ground shakes, the soil crumbles, and slowly one piece of land becomes two. They’re separated by a deep canyon. The yelling gets louder so their voices can traverse the distance but the message falls short because no one is listening. 

To be completely transparent with you; I’m just as guilty. I do it. I form an opinion, my knees lock, and I will not be swayed. It doesn’t matter what you say because my mind is made up and the vault has been sealed. You’ve taken another stance? Ha, bitch please. I can be quite stubborn sometimes so I’m far from innocent here.

But what if I, we, stopped yelling and started listening?

Let’s take these pandemic protestors, for example. I watch them gather in large groups, screaming about their right to get hair cuts, and I roll my eyes, call them idiots. I’ve seen a lot of names hurled at them and some of them, while kinda funny, are a little harsh. Do you want to gather in large groups during a viral outbreak? Cool, sign a medical waiver so when you get sick, you don’t overburden the medical system.

Cringe. Yeah, when I say it out loud it’s kinda gross. A knee jerk reaction born out of frustration. I want my life back too, but I’m locked inside with a compromised immune system. You would risk my life, so you can look pretty. Wow, deep sigh of vexation. Thanks for caring about your fellow humans.

I realize there are two groups of people at these protests. I won’t make excuses for the people who choose cruelty. The ones carrying guns, nazi flags, and threatening violent revolt? Hurting someone else for your own gain or your own righteous indignation is not okay. There’s nothing you can say that will make it acceptable to me and most decent people. Verbal abuse or physical assault is cheap, easy, and cowardly. There’s a difference between voicing dissent and physically forcing your will onto others.

The others, the people who are peacefully voicing their concerns, are another story. Have you listened to them? I finally got out of my own way and heard what they had to say. Some of their concerns are valid and understandable. They’ve lost their jobs. They don’t know how they’re going to feed their families. They want to work, to earn their way, but they can’t and they’re scared. They’re facing the very real possibility of losing everything they have. I can imagine how terrifying that must be for you. I’m so sorry you’re in this position. Genuinely sorry!

Do I agree with what you’re doing? No, but I’m not living your life. I’m not the one that has to live with the consequences of your actions now or with the future you’re facing. Listening doesn’t mean agreeing. Hearing what you’re saying doesn’t mean I’m happy that you’re marching but it’s your right to do so and I respect that. Respect isn’t acceptance but it is a display of tolerance or, at the least, an attempt at understanding your point of view. I might not like it but I don’t have to like it to empathize.

Taking a moment of silence doesn’t mean surrender. On the other hand, yelling doesn’t make us brave; it makes us loud. Screaming doesn’t make us right, and it often leads to our message being lost in the storm. Clenched fists, red faces, spit flying out of our open mouths? How’s that working out?

You’ve probably seen the pictures of the protestors versus the medical personnel in scrubs. The pictures are everywhere and so is the commentary. Which ones were labeled heroes and which ones were labeled lunatics? The ones that yelled or the ones who stood silently? Which took more courage? Angry protest or peaceful defiance? Which one will history judge and which one will it praise?

I have my opinions and, full disclosure, they are based on a bias. I have family working the front lines of this pandemic. The toll it’s taking on them breaks my heart and then we see the angry mob go after them with, what amounts too, pitchforks and flaming torches. I’m trying so hard to be understanding but it makes me so angry and so sad.

Can you imagine working 12-18 hours, with very little personal protection, to save the lives of strangers who are dying from this virus? You hold the hands of the dying so they don’t have to die alone. You stay away from the people you love to protect them. You watch your coworkers, your friends, get sick and die. You wonder when your turn will come. You pray it won’t happen to you but supplies are running low or they’ve run out. Is it only a matter of time? How scared are you now?

Then you walk out of the hospital and someone attacks you for doing your job. They kick you out of your home, take away your child, because of your job. You go to the store to get groceries and you’re spat on because you risked your life to save others. How about now? What has all the screaming accomplished?

It can take a great deal of courage to fight but, even more courage to be still. It takes more heart, bravery, to stand and let the silence speak volumes. At the very least, those moments of silence give us a chance to listen and hear the fears, the concerns, the motives behind the person’s actions. It can lead to a little understanding and maybe that can lead to a peaceful resolution. A resolution that can be a handshake and an agreement to disagree.

It’s hard ground to stand on, isn’t it? But we’ve got to do something because the canyon is getting wider and too many people are getting lost down in the crevasse. We’ve gotten so used to yelling that we’ve forgotten how a conversation works. Somewhere along the way we’ve lost the ability to disagree with each other without hating each other. Is it even possible? After everything that’s happened, can we listen to each other, or have we gone too far?

My head hurts, my heart is tired, and I just want a moment of peace. How about you? Are you tired yet? Think we can call for an armistice or are we too far gone? I’m going to be optimistic and say we’ve still got time to turn this around. All we need to do is have some courage and be still.

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