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It’s been a little over a month since the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th, 2021, and I’m still processing what happened. Trump loyalists stormed the Capitol building, armed with guns, body armor, and zip ties to dismantle the democratic tradition of certifying the election results of incoming President-elect, Joe Biden. They marched into the chambers of the House and Senate, leaving destruction and death in their wake. And, while the darker themes of kidnapping and assassination of Congressmen are still to be confirmed in court, there is no doubt that violence was the goal.
Friends, I am tired. And I don’t know what to say. The last year has been one of the hardest for a lot of us because a dark underbelly is being exposed. The dark underbelly of politics, of religion, of racism, and of the fear that drives it. And I — like so many — have remained silent through it all.
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I have friends who are both vehemently Republican and those who are die-hard Democrat, and I haven’t wanted to express my opinions because I don’t want to upset those around me. “Keeping the peace” with the people in my world felt safer than speaking up about things that unsettled or worried me. My silence was also my self-preservation: I didn’t have to examine my own complicity or beliefs if I never shared them with anyone. I wouldn’t have to go through the painful realization that many I loved and cared about could not listen to my opinions without our relationship becoming untethered. My silence meant avoiding being “cancelled” by the people that compose my social fabric.
“Keeping the peace with the people in my world felt safer than speaking up about things that unsettled or worried me.”
My silence, disguised as trying to avoid fanning the flames of division, was — at its core — a response to fear. While I could justify my silence as not simply adding another voice to the cacophony, the deeper truth is that I’m afraid of others’ reactions to my opinions. I am afraid that I will be unlovable if I do not espouse the right belief, the same opinions, or everything else I perceive to be what the people around me want me to say.
While this fear was not born in the last year, it stems from a lifetime of seeking the approval of those around me and being in a community that values communal thought and action. An important piece of my background is that I grew up in the church, and worked at a church until quite recently. While I don’t want the deep wounds of the American church to be the focus of this article, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my upbringing and environment have deeply impacted my opinions, views, and deeply-held habits and fears.
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For the past few years, I have avoided expressing my true thoughts and feelings because I knew people in my circle would be upset, which would displace my delicate holding in that ecosystem. When it’s been consistently reinforced that your identity hinges on what other people think about you, it’s a recipe for shame, guilt, and fear. So, I’ve been quiet.
I don’t want to speak for anyone here or anyone who is reading this, but the display at the Capitol really opened my eyes to how dangerous silence can be. And I don’t think I’m the only one. A few weeks ago, a top Republican senator (who remains anonymous), asked this rhetorical question: “What is the downside for humoring him [Trump] for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change…It’s not like he’s plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on Jan. 20. He’s tweeting about filing some lawsuits, those lawsuits will fail, then he’ll tweet some more about how the election was stolen, and then he’ll leave.”
What’s the downside of humoring lies and not speaking out against them? The downside of remaining silent is that we are not communicating neutrality: we are communicating consent and support of injustice and inequality. The downside is that silence prevents us from living authentically within ourselves for the sake of maintaining temporary comfort. While staying silent feels like keeping peace, peace is not normally silent. Peace is speaking up for what is right and vehemently opposing what is wrong. Believing that silence is peace is a privilege — a privilege that many are not afforded because they are more directly affected by the injustices that many of us remain silent about.
“The downside of remaining silent is that we are not communicating neutrality: we are communicating consent and support of injustice and inequality.”
Keeping the peace by remaining silent only leaves the more vocal and radicalized to do as they please. Although my voice can feel meaningless amidst the millions of others that are speaking out, there is strength in numbers — we saw this demonstrated at the Capitol.
I do not know that speaking up for truth and integrity will change much on a large scale, because I am just one individual. But I am realizing that speaking out when I see injustice, inequality, or unfairness — no matter how insignificant it feels — is necessary. I cannot afford to live in false peace with the people around me, because that means I am not being true to myself and the people that deserve equality and justice.
But, if peace is not sitting quietly while the world erupts in flames around me, then my definition of peace needs to change. Peace cannot continue to be afforded to me at the expense of injustice and unfairness festering around me, or sitting by silently while people I know espouse inequitable and harmful ideas or practices. Peace means educating, listening, speaking out, and helping. Peace is not only an external work; it must begin within.
Peace with others cannot happen until I find peace within myself. This cycle of silence, anxiety, and judgement must be broken if we are to build towards a brighter and more equitable future, but breaking out of that cycle requires immense bravery. For me, that first step of bravery is acknowledging that I cannot continue in silence, and that this will require deep and uncomfortable change.
Hopefully, one day, I will be brave enough to do something more: to learn more, to advocate, to educate, and to speak out against injustice. But the first step is often the hardest, and today I am simply acknowledging that I refuse to confuse silence with peace any longer.
If we want to pursue true, lasting, and good change in our country, we may need to rethink our idea of “peace.” How have you worked to build personal integrity over this past chaotic year? Share with us in the comments!
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