What role does silence play in human conflicts? This question recognizes that silence may have a positive role to play — in helping to prevent or resolve conflicts — but that it could also have a negative role to play, as one one or more parties to a conflict use silence as a “weapon” to prevent reconciliation.
“When silence is done ‘right,’ silence can disarm us. Emotionally, physically, disarm us. It strips us of our ego. It takes us to that sacred center and allows us to try to learn how to love.” — Cassidy Hall
This week Kevin, Cassidy and Carl reflect on how we have experienced silence in conflict, in both creative and challenging ways.
From the old activist slogan “Silence = Death” to Audre Lorde’s challenging declaration “your silence will not protect you,” we examine how conflict reveals the different ways that we think about, or talk about, or use silence, especially when engaged in a struggle with another person or group.
“If the silence is being used to punish… then that’s not really silence in the way I talk about encounter or beholding, that’s actually noise. Using silence as a word, as a ‘No’ to someone as opposed to the other silence which is an absolute ‘Yes.’”— Kevin Michael Johnson
Should there be two words for silence? Is the “silence” that dominates or obstructs reconciliation really a type of psychic or spiritual “noise”?
We look at how silence can sometimes provide a “buffer” in the midst of an escalating family conflict, or how extreme emotions seem to propel us to a place of silence — where, by grace, we might regain our center and thereby begin the process of reconciliation, or at least recognize that beneath the feelings of conflict (anger, and rage) might lurk even more unsettling feelings such as fear.
“Silence is a democratic material. It allows everybody to have equal platform and equal voice, because if nobody’s talking, nobody is dominating.” — Helen Lees
What is the relationship between silence and listening? Can silence invite us into a place where, separated by conflict, we can learn to be together again? If politics is about power, how does silence invite us into vulnerability? What is the relationship between silence and the stories we tell, to foster relationship and reconciliation? These, and other questions, shape our conversation and exploration in this episode.
“Silence has something really creative to offer into a conflict situation. Whether it’s creating the space to listen, creating the space to cool-down or calm down, creating the space where we can invite all parties into a vulnerability.” — Carl McColman
Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode:
- Audre Lorde, Your Silence Will Not Protect You
- Patrick Shen (dir.), In Pursuit of Silence
- Maggie Ross, Silence, Volume II: Application
- Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land
- Helen Lees, Silence in Schools
- Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
Episode 8: Silence in Conflict
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall and Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded: November 14, 2017
“If you do not understand my silence, you will not understand my words.” — Anonymous