November 24, 2014
Last Friday, I had an impromptu and very short brainstorm discussion with our current Executive Trainees about what could be a good topic for this week’s blog post. The conversation quickly turned to the theme of silence, its positive and negative effect in society.
The virtues of silence have long been recognized. The popular saying “speech is silver but silence is golden” may date back to Ancient Egypt. It probably means that in some circumstances the less you say the better it is. I can imagine that when you are in the company of strangers, discretion would be more appropriate than indiscretion.
Keeping a secret is a form of silence that is highly ethical.
Silence in some case is a legal right. If you are being arrested, you do have “the right to remain silent.” The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution permits you not to answer specific questions when you may, by the answer you give, incriminate yourself. An attorney, under the attorney-client privilege, is bound by law to keep communication between his or her client confidential.
Sometimes silence is an obligation, such as when its purpose is not to disturb the tranquility of others. I am afraid I was oblivious to that obligation last week as I boarded an Amtrak train on my way to Annapolis to speak to a PRSA chapter there. I asked the gentleman sitting next to me whether he was going to Washington D.C. He looked at me as if I was insane, which prompted me to question his sanity. He finally with apparently great self- control whispered to me: “This is the silent car!” I did not even know Amtrak had one.
Silence can be a powerful tool in sending a speechless message. Elie Wiesel once said that it was impossible to find the correct words to describe the Shoah and that maybe the best way would be to find the greatest contemporary actor, have him or her appear on the world’s greatest stage and then… for the actor to remain silent.
Moments of silence can be moments of contemplation, prayer, reflection and remembrance of loved ones that are no more.
“Omerta” the implicit code of silence among members of the Mafia is a very negative aspect of silence. The “Omerta” prohibits a member to reveal any information to the authorities and the breaking of it is punishable by death.
Keeping silent when witnessing wrongdoing is, in most cases, morally unacceptable, even if the victim of wrongdoing is you. We are to say something if we see something.
The November 19, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone features a long article entitled A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA (University of Virginia.) The article tells the story of 18 year old Jackie who was gang raped for three hours at a fraternity party by fellow students. The victim waited for two years to make the assault public! The author of the article believes that: “Rapes are kept quiet (at UVA) both by students-who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable of their cherished party culture- and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting the students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal.”
According to the Clery Center for Security on Campus, (quoted in the article) one in five women is sexually assaulted in college yet only 12 percent reported it to the police.
What is wrong with this picture?
Could it be that we are facing a culture of silence about rape and particularly about rape on campuses?
The only remedy I see is to speak up, and to encourage others to speak up.
As Elie Wiesel once said: