As Martin Luther King rightly said, and American writer and teacher Clint Smith quoted in his TEDx Talk, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Shedding light on the dangers of silence through powerful poetry, Smith speaks on the consequences of staying silent ranging from life-changing events such as “genocide” and “war” to everyday challenges.
“Every day, all around us, we witness the consequences of silence manifest themselves in the form of discrimination, violence, genocide, and war,” he says.
He promotes a safe culture wherein “students are able to share the intimacies of their own silence.” To do so, he lists down four core principles: “Read critically; write consciously; speak clearly; tell your truth,” he notes as he emphasises on the last one.
“I realised I gave up speaking the truth a long time ago. I spent so much of my life telling people the things they wanted to hear instead of the things they needed to, told myself I wasn’t meant to be anyone’s conscience so sometimes I just wouldn’t say anything, appeasing ignorance with my silence,” he recites.
Stating a simple yet compelling notion, he continues, “We spend so much time listening to the things people are saying that we rarely pay attention to the things they don’t.”
Creating an impact in the room by spilling hard truths behind silence, he says, “Silence is the residue of fear. It is feeling your flaws gut-wrench guillotine your tongue. It is the air retreating from your chest because it doesn’t feel safe in your lungs. Silence is the Rwandan Genocide. Silence is Katrina. It is what you hear when there are enough body bags collected.”
As he concludes, he urges the audience to not let “silence wrap itself around your indecision,” and to “live every day as if there were a microphone tucked under the tongue because who needs a soapbox, when all you’ve ever needed, is your voice.”