First, this has nothing to do with Doctor Who. Sorry!
Second, a disclaimer. This post is not directed at anyone in particular. Given it’s nature, practically everyone I know might be able to think it is directed at them, but I promise, it is not. It is something that applies to me as much as to the rest of my species.
There are good kinds of silence: quieting the internal voices, seeking peace, beautiful natural stillness, not speaking poison.
This post is not about that kind of silence.
Let me get my bias out of the way. I was raised to see the benefit of open honesty. Not cruel honesty, for there is such a thing, but openness.
Not to speak about evil gives it power.
Not to denounce injustice is silent acquiescence.
Not to speak about experience deprives others of information and deprives the speaker of the chance to hear differing perspectives.
That is what I believe.
Sometimes I encounter people who resent the freedom of speech afforded to others. Either someone expresses opinions they do not like, and they take offense, or they simply despise the people who speak. And most (if not all) people do one or both of these sometimes.
It is helpful to remember this: If you want to speak your mind, protect the right of others to speak theirs. When that right is taken from someone, it can, and probably will, be taken from you. Tables turn, and the way you treat others may dictate how they treat you.*
Even if someone supports freedom of speech, though, there will still be times when they resent someone’s use of it. It may seem, to some, that I am just stating the obvious, but keep going. Obvious or not, we all seem to miss the point sometimes.
For all the commonalities in humanity, each experience is unique. We (people) like to categorize and simplify others, it is a survival technique, a way to make swift judgements, when necessary. And it is a technique that gets us into all kinds of trouble. It tricks us into thinking we know more about a person than we really do. We make assumptions.
Ignorance, prejudice, and xenophobia are bad. Assumptions both stem from and feed into these evils.
Some people, knowing from personal experience (or learning from others) the damage done by certain assumptions, are able to overcome those assumptions. But often these people, the ones who “know better,” propagate a different set of stereotypes.
For the sake of clarity, let’s say person A is seen by person B, and person B makes an ignorant or prejudiced assumption about person A. Then person C comes along and, seeing B’s judgement of A, C makes judgements about B. This is the simple form. It could become a prejudice dodecahedron, with 12 people, each making assumptions about 11 others until we have something like 132 assumptions in play (I am bad at math, so don’t trust me on the numbers).
But let’s keep it simple. A <-prejudice- B <-prejudice- C
Of all the questions or soap-box speeches I could raise, I will stick to this one, for now:
What benefit will there be if A, B, or C remain silent and/or dismiss what the other says because of the assumptions they make?
Am I insane to think that the ONLY way people grow and learn and become less prejudiced is by making mistakes, making assumptions that are then challenged, and putting their feet firmly in their mouths and then being confronted? Should they be invalidated/dismissed/stereotyped because they make mistakes, or happen to disagree with you about something?
The thing that frustrates me most is that so many people agree with this in principle, but forget that it cuts both ways. They know that the groups they identify with, or sympathize with, are unfairly stereotyped by others, but forget the hard truth that the group or “attribute” that they love to hate is included.
Let me be clear: We are all guilty. If you think you aren’t, then you need to take a long, honest look at yourself and your biases.
It feels good to be “right.” It feels good to despise someone else, to pity them, or to hate them. It is painful, sometimes excruciating, to admit we are wrong, and to consider the value of someone we love to hate.
The hard truth is that we all harbor prejudice. Every last one of us. The trick is to be honest enough with ourselves to find it, and determined enough to fight it.
I’m making myself crazy writing this. The problem is ubiquitous, within me as well as without, an infernal game of whack-a-mole. It seems too massive to even be faced, especially as the current social climate is increasingly divisive. I have to focus smaller, to remember that every little bit helps. So, if you or I take anything away from this ramble, let it be this:
Humanity contains more variety than we can grasp. We never really know as much about a person as we like to think. And, finally, that people should speak. Ignorance and prejudice cannot be discovered, confronted, or defeated by silence. Understanding cannot grow in the absence of information.
And speaking does no good if we are not willing to overcome our prejudices and listen.
* If you live in a country where freedom of speech is suppressed, or nonexistent, I hope policy, or practice, or both will soon change.