“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends” was the powerful Martin Luther King Jr. quote that opened the TED talk by speaker Clint Smith.
In the short speech, Smith talked about how he encourages his students to tell their truth and explore the silences in their lives and the time when he realized that he had given up his own voice to tell people what they wanted to hear rather than what he wanted to say. He went on to address the situations when instead of speaking up for what is right, he instead turned a blind eye, forced a smile. Like the time he witnessed an acquaintance beaten up for being gay and when a lady at a fund raising even applauded him for his work teaching, ‘poor, unintelligent kids’. He didn’t agree with what he was seeing or hearing but instead of speaking out, he let silence fill the space.
But silence is dangerous. Because what may seem like an innocent decision to take a back seat and keep your head bowed, can result in violence, discrimination and tragedy and we see this everyday. As Clint Smith so bluntly puts it, “Silence is Rwandan genocide. Silence is Katrina. It is what you hear when there aren’t enough body bags left.”
This speech left me questioning and reflecting on the times when I allowed silence to takeover. Simple, stupid times like when I wouldn’t put my hand up in a seminar for the fear of disapproval from my peers. And for times when I’ve put my head down, walked a little bit faster and turned up the volume on my headphones to ignore the whispers of ‘any spare change?’ from the homeless sat on the street.
Until watching this talk, I had never considered the harm that could be done by something seemingly so innocent as silence. But now that I’m aware, I can focus on speaking up and being counted for.
If you want to take 5 minutes out of your day to listen to this talk (and I recommend that you do) I’ve provided the link here: