“Let’s Just Not Talk About It” – Reflecting on Stubborn Silence in the Midst of Wrongdoing

If you don’t use your influence, it’s almost as if you didn’t have it. That’s what I saw in my hometown. At the moment people were being beaten, and churches burned, and people put in jail and killed, people were silent.”
Dick Molpus, white, grew up in Philadelphia, Mississippi

The subject remained taboo.”
Leroy Clemens, black, reflecting back on the silence he experienced in Philadelphia, Mississippi

I’m reading the sad and difficult story of the brutality against African Americans, including and especially civil rights workers, in Philadelphia, Mississippi 50 years ago: Ending 50  Years of Silence About Mississippi’s Freedom Summer. And though the brutal murders are beyond disturbing, almost as disturbing is the silence of the white people who did not participate, but remained…silent.

And now, some 50 years later, In the midst of public admissions and attempts to move forward, there is still, for too many, silence.
(I do encourage you to read this at The Atlantic – a little sobering reading for the weekend).

So, with this as the backdrop, a question: why do we not want to talk about “it?

There are a lot of words and stories and bad actions and failures of folks to put in that “it” slot. When a person does wrong; when a company, or nation, does wrong; when a church or entire religious body does wrong, why do we not want to talk about it?

The author of The Atlantic article, Ellen Ann Fentress, put it this way:

“the human mind is built to deflect unwelcome information.”

I don’t know… Maybe it is the right approach to just move on, to ignore and not talk about the failures and wrongdoings of the past.

But I don’t think so.

Let’s remember the simple definition.

behavior or action that is wrong, evil, or blameworthy.

First, let’s acknowledge that leaders of organizations can lead an entire organization to do wrong, or “hide/cover up” wrongdoing after the fact. The list is endless… The current stories include the GM cover-up, and the VA scandal.  But there are many, many, many more we could draw from.

This almost seems to be the pattern. Wrong is done. And the organization’s leader or spokesperson communicates “We did nothing wrong,” to, “it was the actions of a few,” to “we are ready to move on,” which basically means “let’s not discuss it – let’s not talk about it.”

I think that is the wrong approach to wrongdoing.  I think we should discuss it much more often. I think we should stand against silence so very strongly. Because, I think silence practically enables further wrongdoing. While genuine, open, enlightening conversation — shedding light on what was done wrong, and how the silence of those who knew about it kept it hidden — is the path to less wrongdoing in the future.

“Let’s move on,” in other words, requires “let’s be open and honest” first.

But “Let’s not talk about it” pretty much guarantees continuing difficulty, and further wrongdoing.


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