It was last summer when I first started seeing the slogan “Silence is Violence” pop up on my social media feeds.
And I understood what it meant. I understood that the sentiment behind it was most likely derived from such noble MLK quotes such as: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” and “To ignore evil is to become accomplice to it” – both of which I wholeheartedly agree with.
Yet at the same time, I felt a load of guilt forced upon me – as if these inanimate posts from people who didn’t even know I was reading them were pointing the condemning finger at me. I felt that if I didn’t immediately post something signaling my agreement with the cause, I would be the one committing violence against people of color. Even though such a thought is abominable to me.
So I had to ask myself, “Am I being an accomplice to evil by not posting my views about it on every social media platform? Am I being apathetic and silent about things that matter?” It’s always good to evaluate our own motives and viewpoints on things in life to make sure we’re truly living out the convictions God has set in our hearts. And maybe there are some things that I do need to fight for more actively.
But it’s also good to evaluate our motives for why we’re joining a social movement and posting things about it online. Does it really line up with our values or do we just feel the guilt of social pressure to go along with it? Are we actually living out those values in real life or are we just posting about them online? Does it make us feel better about ourselves to say the right slogans, even if not much changes in our everyday lives?
The problem with slogans is that they boil complicated truths down to brief sayings that can easily be misinterpreted. They look good on a poster, but they might end up doing unintentional damage.
Because if someone starts internalizing the message of “Silence is violence,” they will start judging everyone around them who is not speaking up in the same way that they are. They will look at someone else’s apparent “silence,” and assume they don’t care about the issues of racism and loving people of all colors and nationalities. And then they will start to criticize them.
But maybe the silent ones have learned that if they speak up for what they believe in, they will have the violence turned on them by those who disagree.
Maybe shaming people for not believing what you believe – or believing it as strongly as you do – will have the opposite effect on your campaign, for shame is usually not an effective tool to change someone’s mind.
Maybe the ones who are silent on social media don’t care so much about proving their virtue to a mass of critical digital consumers – but they’re actually living out their convictions daily in ways that matter – and that the masses will never see.
Maybe we need less strongly-worded rhetoric posted online and more words of love spoken out loud to hurting friends and neighbors.
Maybe we need to stop judging the world from behind a screen and start embracing them with genuine empathy and sacrifice.
I understand that the Internet can be a great place to raise awareness about a cause. But I also understand that it’s a place to make people feel equal amounts of self-righteousness and shame about said causes – all through the smallest slogans and sharpest accusations.
I agree with the underlying principles of love and justice and speaking up for things that matter. I just don’t find that it’s my place to be doing that through social media on a regular basis. I don’t feel compelled to prove that I agree with every social cause so that people will think more highly of me.
But what I do feel compelled to speak up for is creating safe spaces for dialogue – face to face with spoken words that we can hear and eyes that we can look into.
It concerns me that some people don’t feel that they can have a voice because they will automatically get shut down for daring to question some parts of movements, slogans, or ideologies. It bothers me that people will only communicate through text where meaning is easily misunderstood, and judgments are more quickly cast. It saddens me that I fear that people whom I love will stop loving me because I may possibly disagree with them.
We must all remember that we can’t know each other’s hearts, and it is not our place to be the moral police of said hearts. All of us must answer to God for how we lived out His commands, especially ones like, “Love mercy, do justly, and walk humbly with thy God.” We cannot be the ones to condemn someone else if we think they’re being “silent.”
Rather, let each of us do our part in the way that God has called us to and live in peace with that conviction and daily commitment. This will affect the most change in our small spheres of influence – far beyond what one more slogan could do. And maybe in that sphere of influence, we can love those who are “silent” enough to give them the courage to speak up for what they believe in – even if it’s different from what we believe in.