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Choosing to be Silent

Chandrea's picture


When I see this picture of a raindrop about to fall off the tip of this leaf, I can only imagine how quiet it will be in comparison to all the other sounds of nature surrounding it.  There’s something so peaceful about this picture that makes it hard to remember that if we had the ability to zoom out and look beyond that particular leaf, as well as tune into our other senses, we might even forget the other sounds we would hear such as the rustling of leaves and the deafening sound of cicadas. Maybe it’s the focus of the camera on this leaf that makes it hard to think about what else is surrounding it. I imagine this leaf being in the woods, and thinking back on moments of when I was silenced, the woods probably would’ve been a good place to get away from it all.

For most of my life I was brought up in a household where my father thought he could control us. I stayed pretty quiet when I was younger and followed my mother’s lead. My mom probably had plenty of opportunities to speak up and say something but I believe she stayed silent because she didn’t want to cause any problems. After a long day of work, the last thing she needed was an argument with my father. But as my siblings and I grew older, we grew tired of having to keep our mouths shut to make him happy. I don’t even think that I kept my mouth shut because of my dad. I think I did it to make my mom happy. If me keeping quiet meant it would please my father, this hardheaded teenager wasn’t going to have it.

Looking back at this experience, I see silence as being equal to obedience or even fear. Even if I were walking down the stairs to get out the door to run to the bus stop, my dad would yell at me in Khmer to “keep it down” and point his finger accusingly at me. He probably thought that because I’m girl I should be quiet and take tiny steps and make as little noise as possible. Sure, maybe I could have been quieter walking down the steps but I knew that if I did what he said then I would be reinforcing his control on the rest of the family. This makes me sound like I was a bit of a jerk but his controlling ways were unbearable and unhealthy for my family. I stayed silent when I was younger because I didn’t know any better. When I got older I knew I could help my mom out of such a volatile situation and I used my voice, or lack of silence, to achieve this goal. Where do you go in a situation like this, when home isn’t the comfortable, safe place it’s supposed to be? It was like I was walking back to my own personal hell after school each day.

Fast forward my life a little and my father’s not living with us anymore and my house is now starting to feel like home. I can talk to my mom and my siblings freely and openly. I don’t feel any tension and negative energy in my household anymore and I think choosing to speak up and stand up to my dad was the right thing to do. But I wonder if by doing this I am now the one who’s choosing to silence him. And if I am, am I silencing him in a good way?



Anne Dalke's picture

Silence as obedience and fear

The initial image you chose was of silence in sleep (though your description was rather of our common experience of "actively search for silence" @ bedtime--when "all of a sudden it gets really loud in your mind." It's interesting to me that neither you or any of your classmates returned to that representation of an experience we all share.

Instead, you chose sara's photograph of a moment just before motion, of a raindrop about to fall off a leaf. And you chose it to represent a place you would like to have been, as a child, a site in the woods where you would have liked to have been able to go, "a good place to get away from it all."

Silence, in the difficult story you tell, is "equal to obedience or even fear." And-- like several of your classmates --you eventually learned to use your voice in that volatile situation, to speak up and stand up. And you know that doing this was good, for yourself, your mom, your whole family.

...Or do you? Perhaps the most interesting part of your paper, for me, is when you question the rightness of your actions, asking whether, in standing up to your dad, you were "choosing to silence him. And if you are, are you silencing him in a good way?"

When Uninhibited asked a similar question-- "How do I find my voice within my family, without feeling as though I have taken the voice and power from others?" --I asked back, "What makes this a closed system, w/ only a limited amount of air time? Why does one person's speaking limit--rather than actually enable--that of others? Mightn't your speaking (for example) model speaking for your siblings as well? Enable your dad to learn to speak in a different way (responsively, rather than authoritatively, in dialogue rather than monologue)?"

I look forward to exploring these questions with you further...