When Truth is Replaced by Silence

When Truth is Replaced by Silence

by , Director of Religious Exploration

“When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.” -Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Do these pants make me look fat?

There are so many opportunities to be silent. To protect someone’s feelings, to avoid confrontation, embarrassment, feeling uncomfortable. But, when is silence a form of not telling the truth?

More important than the answer to how a piece of clothing looks on your body, is the ability to ask, and the ability to allow another to speak to you in honesty and with love. I feel like we all had these honesty skills as children, but they may not have been nurtured, because of other things that took precedence, like being polite, and being likeable, being acceptable . I think this is especially true with girls.

I am a person who does not like to create a storm with every interaction. I was raised that way. I like peace and comfort. Don’t we all? Why does speaking the truth create discomfort?

I have recently been revising a novel that I have written. I find it interesting, that when I have asked people to read parts of it for me, I feel the need to give them permission to be honest and not worry about hurting my feelings. I have had lovely people, give me excellent feedback and honest suggestions, and I am in awe of their skill. But, still, do we really need to give others permission to be truthful?

I was listening to the Michael Cohen hearing the other day on the radio. On the same day, I opened up our Touchstones Ministry Journal, only to see the Yevtushenko quote, and that our church theme for the month was truth.

I wondered, in our nation’s capital, who is telling the truth about what? Telling the truth under oath seems like an “option” at the moment. It pains me to see a group of politicians and government employees who are tasked at running our country, either not telling the truth, or not able to find out what the truth is, or being complicit and silent; another form of a lie.

To further this train of thought, is the topic I spoke of last month: sex education. If we don’t talk about it to our children, all, of it (in an age appropriate manner), are we also being complicit? Silence regarding the use of proper gender pronouns and addressing transphobia is hurtful. To pretend it doesn’t matter, won’t happen to them, isn’t there, or that there will be another time to talk about it is surely not truthful or helpful. (See this article by CB Beal )

Talking about race, and more specifically white supremacy and privilege: here is an opportunity to break some serious silence. There are 40 plus people sitting in our fellowship hall every Sunday who are attending our 8 week series on the subject, hosted by Ken Wagner. I assume that they came in out of curiosity, and are staying because the truth of knowledge, and of breaking silence about their white privilege is monumental. Learning how to do it can take much longer than 8 weeks, but it can change your life and the world. But how to bring your new knowledge and responsibility to speak the truth out into the world and educate others is the tricky part. You will come across a white person who insists they do not have privilege. Then what?

Learning how to speak truth to another, in love, and with respect, is a skill. Often, even if you feel like you have that skill, you may also need courage to exercise it. It’s a skill that I could brush up on daily, and one that I try to teach to the young people I work with. All we can do is practice. I hope that, if you are having some discomfort around it, that you can find some resources to address it as well.

I recently read an article written by Marcia Reynolds Psy.D (Psychology Today). I like the simple ways it discusses having truthful conversations about topics that are difficult. In closing, I’d like to share them with you.

  1. Trust your inner voice. Your brain is masterful at talking you out of creating uncomfortable situations. Yet your nagging inner voice wants you to speak up. Quiet your brain to hear your voice.
  2. Question your fear. What is the worst that could happen? Consider the level of angst you feel now. Could living with the consequences of speaking up be easier than living with your fear? Is it your own embarrassment you are avoiding more than theirs? If you can, choose to be brave. Then keep your intent of helping in mind as you speak.
  3. Be strategic. Unless you are simply informing someone about a clothing, food or make-up gaffe, consider logistics as well as your words. Look for a comfortable and quiet place to talk. Limiting the distractions will help you express care and compassion as you speak. When you share your observation, be clear about the desired outcome now and in the future. Let the person know you are sharing your thoughts because you desire to help them to have something you know is important to them such as their professional future, collegial respect, friendship and love.
  4. Ask permission. Before you launch into your speech, you might ask the person if they would be interested and open to some observations you have had. If you sense their reluctance, you could ask if they would prefer a different time. Don’t use their rebuff as an excuse to back down. Agree on a time in the near future to talk.
  5. Clearly describe the impact of their specific oversight or behavior. A person might disagree with your interpretation of their behavior, but it will be harder for them to dispute the impact they are having on you or other people.
  6. If appropriate, share your intent. Let the person know why you care they have a more positive impact or outcome. Why are you sharing? What do you want for them as a result?
  7. Don’t question your value. If you are being honest and helpful, don’t beat yourself up if the person responds negatively. In the long run, you are developing your personal power as you become more comfortable with giving direct feedback.