I have thought a lot about voices this week, about the power and danger of words. If you know me, you probably know that I am a very verbal being. I love language, I love words, and I’m a verbal processor who enjoys “gaming out” information in ongoing intellectual dialogue. So the old axiom “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, then to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt” has been a perpetual life-lesson. I have spoken words that I later regretted more often than I care to remember. I see the truth of Proverbs 10:19 “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” play out quite often.
Growing as a listener and curbing my tongue will likely be a lifelong challenge for me, if the last 33 year are any indicator. One concrete step I have tried to take is to back off using social media as a platform for declaring stances or sharing critical opinions. Maybe it’s a byproduct of witnessing the ease and impact of online bullying among my students, but I decided some time ago that posting strong opinions online often causes more damage than good. We feel safe saying things at a distance and rarely consider all those who might read what we have to say.
I also struggle with the trivializing effect that “newsfeed culture” has on serious issues. Amid the endless parade of cute kid pictures, TikTok compilations, ridiculous memes, vacation pics, at-home workout routines, baking accomplishments, haircut selfies, and clips from our favorite shows; we also find school shootings, heartbreak, and cops committing murder. The incongruence is jarring. Somehow “shares” and “reposts” have grown into a societally valid way to lend support to the causes we scroll past, but are they just a convenient Band-Aid to ease the comfort of fleeting social conviction? We see stories, we react, we scroll on. Another day, another newsfeed, another laugh, another tragedy. We are unchanged.
So, I’m a social-media-cynic trying to curb her tongue, what am I even doing here?
Well, Proverbs also says, “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Prov. 31: 8-9). This, too, is part of wisdom in God’s eyes.
As I read the utterly heartbreaking stories that have broken over the past weeks, the horrifying murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, I have reeled in shock and internally recoiled from this sick reality. I have worried for my friends and family who are black and wondered how best to love them through this. I have grappled to try to understand what a right response looks like, and how to avoid the hypocrisy of mouthing support without backing it by some greater action? I have wondered whether a verbal show of support is even encouraging to those struggling, or just one more example of a person living in privilege usurping talk-time by making someone else’s pain somehow about themselves?
This week’s in-person conversations and contemplations on justice, personal conviction, fear, right action, responsibility, and love have left me feeling utterly uncertain. Honestly, my “plan” was to stick to my typical social-media rule, and seek wisdom by keeping my mouth shut and trying to just listen. Maybe the last thing the world needs right now is another white person trying to talk about their “struggle” in all of this when the true struggle of life or death based on the color of my skin is the farthest thing from my experience. Maybe I will regret sharing any of this later, because silence really was the better part of wisdom. I don’t know.
However, today I have decided to write because there is clearly such evil, hatred and brokenness in the world, and I cannot shake the conviction that perhaps wisdom today means opening my mouth in support of those whose voices have gone unheeded. Though I fear that my words simply add to a cacophony of voices crying out “This is wrong!”, perhaps my voice can lend itself to the chorus I hear stemming from recent injustices and help it to ring out more clearly?
To my friends and family who are black, I love you so much. I am so sorry for the fear and heartbreak and loss and pain that you experience. I know that I do not feel the cut of racism, and I cannot know what it feels like to live in fear that stems solely from the color of my skin, but I care desperately for you. I commit myself to persistently digging into my own biases and seeking to grow in love, support, and empathy. I hear the outcry that has arisen as, time and time again; injustice in its vilest forms is given a pass by the very systems meant to eradicate it. I hear the fear that permeates your life experiences, and my heart breaks wishing that I could somehow lift that from you.
Reading Dr. Marin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Burmingham Jail” anew, I am convicted afresh by his eloquent calling-out of the white moderates. He wrote, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” I am prayerfully seeking to escape from shallow understanding, and eschew the evil that is, (as King put it) “rest[ing] content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.”
From the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry for any times when I have spoken from a place of privilege and acted dismissive of hard realities that you experience firsthand. I am thankful for the grace that you extend to me when I am insensitive or act thoughtlessly, and I invite you to set me straight if you see fit.
You astound me with your strength of heart amid the turbulence. I hope that you will call on me to support you however I can, whether to hug and listen, protect and defend you in any way that I am able, or to lend my voice and actions to yours. I am sorry if my previous silence left you feeling unsupported or questioning my care for you. I am also sorry if my words here were better left unsaid.