The "Good Intentions" of Silence
I make it a point not to voice my opinions. That might seem surprising to some people who have heard me voice them on multiple occasions. Those times were likely after days or weeks of courage building on my part. And it isn’t till recently when I thought I was in a space and place where speaking wouldn’t be discouraged but encouraged that I have come to realize the impact silence can have on a person even when the intention may have seemed “for the good of the whole” at the time.
Without going into too many details on the who, the where, and the why, I wanted to speak on the power that others have and how wielding that power can cause harm especially when it cannot be seen. Social media has effectively made it so that power is limitless to those who have it and even if that person shows empathy to others they see and meet in person they can easily come off as the total opposite in their online presence and never be aware of it. How can they? The person or persons on the receiving end isn’t directly in front of them. And I wonder how many of us who have any level of control or power over anyone other than ourselves would wield it so easily if we were forced to face those our decisions affect the most?
The more we spend interacting with those we cannot see and therefore cannot empathize with, the more we simply cannot grasp or understand the role we play when we say or do something online that will change the way another perceives us. And I think, what a crazy world we live in. Where technology has managed to remove real connections with others.
Instead, we are a made up username, with an illustrated avatar. We can never truly know if that person on Twitter or Instagram or Discord is who they say they are. Nor should we ever believe anything they say. Because the second we do we hand over a small piece of power to them. And then they stop being that person we believed and their true selves. How do we reconcile that? The made up person we never really knew is now another made up person we still don’t know.
We are all nothing but self-proclaimed constructs of ourselves when we are online and so many of us choose to live there because we can literally be whoever we want and many will believe that which we say we are. How equally amazing and terrifying that is. We are, effectively, two different people. The online person and the real life person and no matter how much we’d like to think they are both the same, they are not and never can be.
The real life person has consequences to their actions. They cannot simply walk up to a person and “speak their mind” because the person on the receiving end will most assuredly respond in a way that may not be welcome. Consequences.
The made up online persona can (and will) “speak their mind” sometimes to the point of drunken insanity because they know that no one can harm them. Sure, people can “reply” but how easy is it to ignore those? Or how empowering is it to know that your thoughts and opinions have received such a visceral reaction? Zero consequences.
And when the made up person decides they should decide who should speak, in order for those who have been silent to now speak up, they make assumptions that have now silenced everyone. Perhaps there are those of us who have nothing to say and are absorbing the conversations around us? Or perhaps there are those of us who have something important to share that everyone would benefit from? But now we are all silent. No one speaks. And what was probably intended to be good has silenced the room.
I’m not really sure the point of my writing all this down except to say that I am not only acutely aware of what it feels like to be silenced. As a gay, black, woman (believe me or not on those claims), I can stand firmly in knowing what it’s like to be silent. I have to be very aware of “who is in the room” (both literal and online) when I choose to speak up. That is just something that I think I learned growing up. No one sat me down and explained racism or sexism or any other ism to me. I witnessed it. I may have experienced it. And therefore I adapted and learned how to avoid those situations as best I could… through silence…
I am also aware of the power I possess. It may seem like I have none but I do. And I’m aware how what limiting power I have can adversely affect another human being, be they online or in person. I am, as we all are, a work in progress.
So, if you are reading this, no matter who you are, where you came from, or where you are planning to go, be mindful of the power you hold and that others hold over you.
There is a little bit of silence in all of us.
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