When Silence Helps. . . Something To Think About. . .

Over the last few days I’ve many times seen the quote about silence equaling complicity. It comes from a variety of sources, including MLK, Bonhoeffer, and Einstein. I agree. But I’m afraid that easy words. . . typed by thumbs and posted on social media for all to see while sitting comfortably away from the conflict. . . are often our best efforts at silencing our own silence. . . and thus leading to a feeling that we are not, in fact, complicit. We believe that our posting equals our action. That’s what’s been called slacktivism and virtue signaling. I very much appreciated the words of the Minneapolis Police Chief as he clarified that the most dangerous silence which equals complicity comes when we are in the moment, in the presence of evil, and we say/do nothing to stop it. . . as happened with several of his officers. That should never happen whenever and wherever we find ourselves in the presence of evil.

My great individual responsibility as I understand it right now is to first listen, to learn, and to quietly and prayerfully process it all in ways that I trust result in beliefs and behaviors that are good, true, right, and honorable. . . bringing glory to God rather than to me, any other human being, or group.

Perhaps something helpful is what I have already shared on a couple of occasions from Alan Jacob’s great piece, “I’m Thinking It Over.” Jacobs writes, “The internet is also a mugger, but what it demands is not my money but my attention and my reaction, and it wants them right now. And ‘I’m thinking it over’ isn’t an acceptable response.”

I know this to be true because on several occasions I’ve had people publicly (on social media) and privately (instant messages) criticize me for saying nothing. Reality is, my silence could be rooted in a desire to know more (rather than relying on the reliability of news outlets), a desire to ponder things with some good sense (I hope), a desire to keep from spewing ignorance (there’s already far too much of that out there), or not really having anything to say that adds to the conversation. After all, each of us has a limited amount of time in our days. I don’t need to fill or waste your time with social media posts that only make noise and throw fuel on the fire. . . especially when I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about.

In his article, Jacobs goes on to offer these guidelines for weighing in that have helped me further my understanding and practice of what I’ve come to value in my life that I call, “The Principle of the Pause.” What would happen if we would all play by these rules and then teach our kids to do the same? After all, all of us will be living with and on social media for the rest of our lives. . .

  • I don’t have to say something just because everyone around me is.
  • I don’t have to speak about things I know little or nothing about.
  • I don’t have to speak about issues that will be totally forgotten in a few weeks or months by the people who at this moment are most strenuously demanding a response.
  • I don’t have to spend my time in environments that press me to speak without knowledge.
  • If I can bring to an issue heat, but no light, it is probably best that I remain silent.
  • Private communication can be more valuable than public.
  • Delayed communication, made when people have had time to think and to calm their emotions, is almost always more valuable than immediate reaction.
  • Some conversations are more meaningful and effective in living rooms, or at dinner tables, than in the middle of Main Street.

Lord, may our words and our actions these days be all about bringing glory to You and not to ourselves, as we listen, learn, and then act on your Kingdom priorities. Bring your shalom. . . in us and through us. . . causing that shalom to eclipse all those things that are not the way they are supposed to be.

3 thoughts on “When Silence Helps. . . Something To Think About. . .

  1. Very well said, Walt. Before the advent of social media, would any of us have felt the “need,” much less have had the means, of “responding publicly”?

  2. Thank you for helping me understand the silence in a different way. What about people who are longing for their church leadership to respond, for direction from their spiritual parents…and yet two weeks later there’s silence? Do you feel church pastors have a responsibility to offer guidance sooner than later or at least to open up honest dialogue ..even when ones thoughts haven’t been fully formed or prayed through? Isn’t the discussion itself an act of grace? I believe there are windows of opportunity to do kingdom work in ways that might be lost if we wait.

    1. Jodi. . . thanks for your comment and question. I do think there’s a huge difference between “virtue signaling” on social media, and pastoral leadership in this situation and others like it. I do believe that Shepherds of local church bodies should be praying and teaching their congregation through these things. However, I also think those pastors should be doing plenty of listening and learning as well. And, when they do speak, they can be blunt and honest about the fact that they might still be in process as they think, listen, pray, study, and learn through things. They can and must warn their flock to do the same.

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