“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King
At Toastmasters, we uphold a set of values that urge us to stand up boldly and do the right thing. Our feedback, conviction and commitment make us role models. We pride in clarity of thoughts and transparency in relationships. We also embrace the power of silence. But then the flip side is being passive or staying silent and dispiriting others. Today when communication has been revolutionised, and we are always switched on, plugged in, live, counting ‘likes’ and in Google search-dominated world, silence is indeed considered as insolence.
The virtues of silence have long been recognized. Nonetheless, we somehow ignored its misfortunes. This reminds me of my first day at work. Being a new teacher, I was directed to wait in the staff room for the HoD, where everyone was neck-deep in work. I waited near a notice board. When I glanced up, I saw the caption “Silence is golden”. Just then the bell rang for break time and people rushed into the room. Many ignored, some stared and a few frowned, but none came towards me to enquire. The ‘silence of silence’ was deafening. I started to feel uncomfortable. I hoped that someone may come to my rescue, and as if I said it out loud, a lady with an infectious smile and a steaming cup of coffee came towards me. Offering a chair, she said, “Ma’am, please take a seat and have some coffee.” With a sigh of relief, I happily accepted the hot cup of coffee. Then she started a conversation and kept me engaged till the HoD arrived. Even today, I remember her warm demeanour and kind words. That day, I learned the biggest lesson of my life- ‘Silence is not always golden’.
When somebody needs your support, your silence does more harm than aggression. Silence is toxic and ruins relations. This is the reason why passive people hurt you more.
Sometimes, it’s not the confrontation that hurts, but the silence which eats you up like a termite and makes you emotionally hollow. To decide to be silent or not – the greater good should be the priority. We should always deliberate whether our voice will make a difference or not. Many stay silent because they don’t want to do any harm by offending or criticizing someone. But when a person is uncomfortable or needs support, it’s irrational to put our comfort as priority above the needs of others. Let’s contemplate the worst-case scenario: if we speak up, someone may disagree, but at least the issue is at the forefront and a solution can be found. Now how about the best-case scenario? When we speak up, everyone benefits, and we are hailed as a powerful leader. Isn’t breaking silence worth taking a risk?
As William Faulkner said, “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion, against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth.”