Challenging Silence

To say that the last few weeks have been a roller coaster of feelings and emotions is a gross understatement. I have been observing the range of emotions within me and those around me. I have noticed that in spite of the peaceful protests, social unrest, riots, looting, and some of the outrageous responses, many of us have just gone silent. I went silent too. A strange behavior for an extrovert. To my surprise, in the wake of the ruthless murder of George Floyd, I was silent and many of my peers and friends, white, or BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) did, too.

I began thinking a lot about silence, the types of silence, and the reasons for silence. What was it about? Can I qualify it? And if I can’t, who gets to qualify my silence?

Was it the silence of dismissal, which many of us have come to despise? You know the type. Public relations firms have mastered it: “our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim.” Life goes back to normal. They look good. The world keeps on turning. Nothing changes. Apathy, inaction, and the distance of privilege prevail.

Was our silence the type that implies consent or assumes consensus? The silence that, as a woman, I am keenly aware of. The same silence that forced me to teach my daughter at a very early age to scream “NO” if someone attempts to do something to her that she disapproves. The screaming is not only for safety; it is also for legal purposes. No one, then, can say that her silence implied consent.

Were we silent as a solemn response to a human tragedy? A father, a son, a friend–a human–was callously killed. Another death on a long, shameful list of police and social brutality. They certainly deserve a moment of quiet, earnest, and solemn reflection. Maybe we were just speechless, lost, and confused?

Were we silently listening? After all, listening is a powerful tool; a skill we find in direct correlation with outstanding leadership. We can all agree it is time to listen to our black friends, neighbors, peers, and leaders. They have gone unheard for too long. Their plea has fallen on deaf ears for centuries. It is time we listen. It is time we hear them, see them, and love them in their pain, their struggle, their anger, their resilience, their sadness, and their brilliance.

Was the silence a sign of something deeper and darker? This situation hits close to home–painfully close. So, was it the silence of the abused, the oppressed, the marginalized, the voiceless? I am an immigrant, a woman, a mixed-race Hispanic, a single mom. Now, more than ever, I have wondered if I have a voice in my city, my state, my industry, or my country. Am I welcome in this powerful social justice movement?

I searched for the answers. I looked deeply into my assumptions and behaviors, and I am still not sure what my silence meant. What I am certain of is that silence in any form is no longer acceptable to me. There is no time for reasons and explanations. The “why” of the past no longer matters. “What’s next” does.

I have observed great leaders who refuse to remain silent. They say what needs to be said. They take risks. Leaders usher in change and challenge the status quo. Leaders embrace the discomfort of conflict, shame, uncertainty, and ambiguity. Great leaders say what honors their values. They convey their message with authenticity and civility. They risk adding their voices and making mistakes. I have done this before, and I will do it again. It is time to break the silence!

My moment of silence is over. Is yours over too?


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