In these times, staying silent is fatal to all of us

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“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

It’s always easier to be quiet. Don’t offend anyone. Be polite. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions. Go along to get along. I get it. It’s easier. Life’s already hard, why make it tougher, particularly about something that is not your truth or experience or doesn’t immediately affect you.

I’ve been trying to live up to this weighty orthodoxy espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of extending my life by saying something – since 2011. It’s hard, really hard. Many times, perhaps most times, I fail at it. I second guess putting someone on the spot, having an uncomfortable conversation. I let a comment go with a roll of the eyes, or I walk away with choice words under my breath only to fume about it later with like-minded friends.

Sometimes, I’m flat out wrong, totally uninformed or I completely misunderstood someone. Sometimes, I am so good at it; I’ve created an uncomfortable and awkward situation with a close friend, family member or total stranger that leaves us both stunned, defensive, incensed, wounded and self-righteous in our own viewpoint only to retreat to the safe comfortable corner of our own existence. “They just don’t get it,” we both say.

Faced with these extremes, undoubtedly, it is always the moment when I have remained silent that I have regretted most – even when compared to those where the strike of my tongue was too quick and too cruel or I made an unpleasant scene or, most horribly for me, I was wrong. Obviously, I dwell and lament following those moments, kicking myself for being an ass or for being fallible. And, while I will often regret the way in which I have
said something or for being ill-informed, I have yet to regret speaking up on any item that is about equality, justice and
what, sadly, most times is just plain old common sense, kindness and decency.

I’ve also found that the roughest moments have always resulted in the most growth for me and for the other casualty in the verbal crossfire… at least in those instances where we have both returned from our corners more openhearted to revisit the conversation. There
is not lasting change without dialogue that leads to understanding of why someone holds his or her beliefs. Sadly,
though, too many times change waits as words remain unsaid.

Like many of you, I’ve been sequestered in place at home. Without daily in-person human interaction, I watch too much TV and scroll through social media more than necessary to connect with the world around me. I’ve also spent way too much time in my own thoughts, loitering for too long in despair over the overwhelming items before us.

Without the typical distractions of daily life to obscure our focus, many of us have been forced to really see things we’ve been so skilled at avoiding: Walking in another’s shoes. Inequity surrounds us and it shows up everywhere, exacerbating each new crisis that
appears.

At the moment, we hear the sorrow and rage through the Black Lives Matter protests. We see the death, isolation and immense financial destruction caused by COVID-19 and its disproportionate devastation on the working class, communities of color and the most vulnerable among us.

The warning signs shout at us as the long smoldering, but underestimated bastions of hate become bolder, and we fear love will not be victorious this time around as our nation is intentionally pulled further away than ever from her highest ideals and aspirations. These
current bricks in the metaphorical wall that divides us sit upon others.

In recent years, we’ve been reminded that women remain unequal, harassed and violated; that immigrants and the undocumented are invisible and disposable; that health care is a privilege taken for granted; that there are still too many hearts and minds left for the LGBTQ+ community to change; that it is harder than ever to rise above one’s station in life; and, certainly the most existential and cataclysmic of all ⸻ one that is almost insurmountable to comprehend: Our planet and our most glorious and heavenly creations continue to wither and perish at remarkable speed with no end in sight.

And, of course, the bricks of division continue to be laid one on top of another until we cannot climb the summit… Yet, the confluence of our seemingly daunting recent events presents opportunity. Perhaps, the crack in the foundational structure of indifference that has fortified this wall for so long is deepening.

“All great changes are preceded by chaos.”

For nearly four years, I’ve been clinging precariously by the very ends of my fingernails to this quote by Deepak Chopra as I watched us retreat from what’s best for the community and instead embrace what’s best for me.

This moment of chaos is our opportunity. For months, we have been forced into a collective time of reflection and massive introspection of what we truly cherish and value. This moment screams at us to speak up and to act. We know there is an invisible virus ready to strike us down; to end our lives… it is the disease of silence and complacency
resulting in a status quo paralysis.

When the pandemic is over and we return to our neighborhoods from this unimaginable global reset, what is it we want to return to? What we had?

Perhaps you haven’t noticed the absence of large gatherings and school days has halted the ubiquitous stream of senseless mass shootings. Have you considered the paradox in the phrase “essential workers” given their working conditions indicate they are anything but dispensable, an underappreciated means to deliver us our entitled common comforts?

Have you shed tears over the heartbreak we’ve seen in the Black community and the unnecessary COVID-related deaths caused by incompetence and indifference? Have
you been shaken by the immense pain and suffering engulfing us that stem from problems that are 100 percent fixable? Do you believe equality was endowed by our Creator but whisked away by those desperate to hold onto the past and to privilege and power?

Have you celebrated the sound of birds returning to your yard and marveled at #NatureIsHealing? Have you missed the long embrace of family and friends, hell even strangers ⸻ the humanity and love conveyed in a simple hug? Haven’t you longed for something better, more benevolent, more just? For all of us? Together.

Dare we take the harder route? Do we open our hearts to listen amid our own discomfort? Do we step back into the world with empathy, compassion, thoughtfulness and grace and embrace this extraordinary moment to create what is desperately needed? Do we commit
to sustaining the momentum and transform into our best selves? Do we finally recognize our individual happiness is inextricably tied to the overall well-being of the weakest and most overlooked in our society? Do we remain silent when those around us are blind to the possibilities and resistant to growth, healing and progress? Or do we find our voice with courage and love and endless determination? Do we rise to meet this moment or do we squander it?

Perhaps like me, COVID has required you to face your mortality and contemplate your reason for being and relevance in the world and evaluate regrets. When you look back at this moment ⸻ at what you said and what you did ⸻ will it have been enough? Will this be the day your life began to end?

Moving forward, my moral compass is set, my voice is steady and my resilience tank is full. Great change is upon us and a chorus of voices is needed to carry it onward. If you believe in this moment, silence and stagnation is what’s truly fatal to us all.

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