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Right to Silence

sschurtz's picture

I found the conversation on Tuesday interesting about the right to silence and to know what others are thinking.  I was uncomfortable with the idea that someone else has the right to know what I’m thinking. I think that in an academic environment there is an obligation to speak but I don’t think we ever should feel that we don’t have the right to be silent. At the same time I think that silence can become a crutch. There is a difference between choosing to be silent as a way to express yourself or your ideas and being silent because its convenient or you don’t want to speak. I think that by attributing such positive things to being silent that it creates an environment where people may just not speak. I still believe and appreciate the right to be silent but I think that it is better to express yourself and speak up if you are able and it is the right thing to do.  I still don’t think that anyone has a right to my thoughts but I have an obligation to speak.


Polly's picture

Different Silences

I agree with juliah that I would have trouble arguing that nobody has the right to know what I am thinking in class. And perhaps even outside of the classroom, in conversations. I think that when I ask people to "tell me what you are thinking" when they stay silent, I am proving that I believe I should have the right to know. 

I liked what Sommers said about different types of silences-forced and chosen. Although I was rather comforted by the acknoledgment that silence can be something one chooses to do, or it can be not their choice at all, there is a kind of paradox there. If I want someone to know which silence I am exercising, I have to break the silence to explain it. I can't reconcile my ideas about silence. Sometimes I agree with an author of a reading who says we should have the right to silence, but then I can't think of a real life example of that. And how can we protect chosen silences but help to break forced ones if we can't tell the two types apart?

juliah's picture

Wrong side of the fence

As with sschurtz, Tuesday’s class left me thinking about the ethics behind my silence, and where I feel I fall. Initially, I was going to make an impassioned post about how no one has a right to my thoughts, and that the right to choose silence is equally as feminist as the right to speak. When I sat down to write it, however, I was struck with an overwhelming feeling of deceit. It was the exact same sensation I had when a teacher in high school told us to write a paper advocating the opposing side to our beliefs on allowing teaching Creationism in public schools—forced, negligent. Although I haven’t exactly been “practicing what I preach” I do lie more on the Audre Lorde side of the argument. Silence has a place, and it should be treated respectfully, but its arguments are not necessarily accurate. The case that silence allows one to be free of misinterpretation is flawed; simply remaining silent does not keep one out of the conversation, for mere existence means that judgments, preconceptions and prejudices will surround one’s every move. And since silences are as open to inferences as speech is, ownership of words is the only way to avoid such misrepresentation. Silence stifles, speech elucidates.