Silence that speaks

“How can you not say anything?” my adult daughters argued. “Why do I have to comment on anything and everything?” was my response. It didn’t help matters. The discussion with my daughters began first on social issues — whether jokes that were clearly sexist or rude behaviour of strangers or, worse yet, people in the family. When MeToo became a hashtag that would empower women to tell their stories, it hit close home. ‘Why didn’t I say anything,’ I wondered.

I do believe that there are occasions that call for immediate action, in private or public. The price of not speaking up can be high, as Martin Niemoller reminds us: “Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

However, in the world of instant communication, social media seems largely anti-social, with personal attacks and name-calling by easily offended anonymous trolls. Choosing what, how and when to respond for the most determined and reasonable person can be fraught with social and even physical risks, particularly if they are women.

Even a community such as the classical music world that I’m part of and is usually respectful, can be driven by division and resistance to call for change. So when accusations of misbehaviour rose as part of the #MeToo movement, I was surprised by the strong reactions and found it hard to absorb.

It was unclear what the right response was to my daughters’ questions. Did my silence mean acquiescence or apathy as they feared, or was weighing my response rather than reacting viscerally the right thing to do?

From corruption scandals to civic amenities and women’s rights, the conversation in many circles, virtual or real, is intense and incessant yet not necessarily insightful. The voices of reason are often drowned in a cacophony of passionate outbursts without any reflection on the issue. Are we stagnating in an echo chamber of our own making? What if no words were needed to communicate a point?

What began as debates on contentious issues such as politics and religion have turned into acrimonious exchanges. Now with the advent of text messaging, we seem to use words and emojis more to talk past each other, or worse attack one another. Even the silent lurkers are not spared. The growing polarisation has become a grim reality with friends becoming foes and relatives banished to the doghouse.  

Differences in opinion have been evident from the dawn of time. From the Bhagavad Gita to our group discussions, opposing views have not just been presented but debated.

After my conversation with my daughters, I rue the fact that we live in times where the luxury of another option — one of reflection in silence — is not available. Social media seems to have forgotten the Sufi mystic Rumi who said, “Silence gives answers.”

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