Silence is not always a virtue


Protesters hold signs at the 2017 Chicago Women’s March. Rather than staying silent and suppressing personal views, it is important to speak up by partaking in meaningful discussions on social issues. Photo by Natalie Sandlow

Rachel Cha, Lifestyle Editor

When I was younger, my parents scolded me if I refused to bow and greet an adult formally. “People will think we didn’t raise you properly,” my mom warned. This implanted a guilt-inciting thought in me that my actions would reflect poorly on my parents if I wasn’t mindful. 

I let this attitude govern my childhood and found the easiest way to avoid disappointing them was to keep quiet, nod along and obey. After all, I couldn’t blame them for wanting me to grow into a respectful young woman, according to Korean standards. 

Now, I realize I mastered the art of masking my emotions about everything. I perpetually suppressed my thoughts and feelings, sitting with them as I had done since childhood because I convinced myself I needed to maintain a respectable reputation for both myself and my parents.

I lived in this silence — rather, I chose this silence — until the events of 2020 unraveled and brought tragedy upon tragedy to my attention. I began to realize I could not keep stifling my feelings, which had bled dangerously into a mindset of not caring about issues beyond myself.

The deeply rooted societal problems that have been propelled into mainstream media in the past year have been historically ignored, but they deserve our full attention. While there is a time and place to remain silent, to observe and reflect, we cannot dissociate ourselves from, or even worse, devalue, others’ problems just because they are not our own. 

“We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.” Amanda Gorman, named National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, proclaimed these words at the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20. Every time I hear this line, I question my own silence and strive to live up to Gorman’s words. 

I have decided to claim my civic responsibility by broadening my understanding on society’s issues and sharing that knowledge with those around me, especially my parents, even though our views may be at odds. I urge you to do the same, and not just for the issues that seem interesting to you. Weed out the root of your silence by exposing yourself to different perspectives, aiming for open-mindedness and having meaningful conversations with those around you. 

Steaming in silence has consequences because others may misunderstand silence for complacency or approval. Just as neutrality, ignorance and indifference are not always indicative of peace, silence is not always a virtue.