Silence as Consent in a Democracy

Surrounding the inauguration of our current president, there were many articles circulating about how folks can reduce political burnout by focusing on one or two key issues. This would prevent being burdened by every action that, as a candidate, Mr. Trump had promised to take. So if you are most knowledgable (or passionate) about the environment, you should focus your energy on that, and not let yourself be bogged down by being involved in every detail that emerges regarding immigration, foreign policy, health care, and whatever else comes up on a daily basis. Which is a great idea… in theory.

In a democracy, the only way for things to work is for the constituents to tell the politicians what they want, and to hope that those politicians listen. In situations where the politician hopes to be re-elected by the people, what they hear from their constituents will change how they behave. Therefore, as a citizen in a democracy, the number one thing that any of us can do is voice our opinions on how we want things to be.

Of course, there are some politicians who do not care what their constituents say. A friend of mine in North Carolina contacted Senator Richard Burr’s office, and was informed that the Senator is not even keeping track of how many people call on particular issues, because he assumes that the millions of constituents that aren’t calling agree with his decision. Regardless of how flawed this logic is (quite simply, millions of people would have been getting a busy signal) it brings up the flaw of this idea of focusing on one key issue: in a democracy, silence is considered consent. If you aren’t speaking out, people assume you are in favor of whatever is happening.

There’s a lot of information out there.

I don’t know much about the politics of the Middle East. I know that horrible things have been happening in Syria for years, and that the situation is complicated. I know that we started a war in Iraq in 2003, and things are still “messy.” I know that people who were caught in the cross-fire desperately wanted to escape Syria, and that we set up a thorough 18-month process for vetting refugees to come to America. I know that European countries have been attacked by extremists who were upset that they were offering refuge to Syrians.

This past week, the United States bombed Syria. I know that I could probably have spent hours looking up detailed explanations of what led to this, and what the implications could be. I may have come away with a good education in the subject. But that all takes time, and tomorrow, there could be major news about health care reforms, and to have an educated opinion about this, I would need to do similar levels of research. Then the next day, the news could be on labor laws, therefore more research.

Not saying anything about entering a war, or about health care reform, or whatever comes up next, is the same as saying “I approve of this.” I don’t even know if I approve of these things, or not, because by the time I truly get educated in one subject, there would be three more that I feel I need to be fully educated in, to say anything. So when I learned about our attacks on Syria, I put up a little Facebook message, with feelings of sadness that Americans couldn’t open their hearts to people facing horrible things in Syria, when those people wanted refuge, but they could sure as hell use them as an excuse for joining a war.

And over the next day, I considered taking it down. Throughout the day I learned more about the situation, and I began to doubt if the attacks were really a bad idea. I wondered if I was too harsh. I wondered if I had alienated the few conservative friends who might not have muted my feed. I worried if people would start a debate for which I was totally unprepared.

If I had waited until I was fully educated, I would have never spoken. There have been many events in the news, recently, on which I haven’t spoken, because of this desire not to speak until fully educated. But those that are willing to speak from their gut, regardless of facts, are the ones who’s opinions are heard, now. At least I know that there are a few subjects that I actually know what I’m talking about.

How do we balance this need to voice opinions with the need to have an opinion that is actually educated? For me, I hope that I’ve surrounded myself with people of different perspectives, so that on some subjects I can simply trust that when my friends that are “experts” in some subjects say “This is a bad idea,” I can trust that if I were to spend the time and energy researching I would come to the same, or similar, conclusion. On some subjects, I take the time to learn a little. But sometimes, I just listen to my gut and spew things that feel right. I hope that there will always be somebody to call me out with well-researched facts, when that happens.




  • Toni says:

    I happen to think that this post is a great one for others to see. Please remember that people who do “speak from their gut” often use inflammatory language because “speaking from the gut@ is an emotional response versus a logical response based on facts…

    Could we say for a moment that people should speak their minds regardless of knowledge in an area but to start a conversation? I don’t know everything about everything, either. But I remember that healthy debate shouldn’t involve insulting people or using curse words. That having a disagreement with someone and learning from on the conversation why people are against, say for instance, bombing in Syria, and then changing one’s opinion is not a bad thing (or the reverse of that, too).

    We get too entrenched in our opinions, I think, and it looks weak when we change our minds when we speak to someone who can get us to see another viewpoint. Yet… where is the weakness in changing an opinion? What leads us to think that? Is it our immediate family and friends that make us feel that way? Is it the way society reacts to people who change their minds?

    I’m not necessarily disagreeing with many people on the Syrian bombing, I am upset because 93 million dollars was wasted on those tomahawk cruise missiles and the next day, that military air base was back up and running. So… should we have bombed or not? Discussion on this would have helped me, you, a couple of hundred thousand other Americans that are semi-paying attention. Perhaps a couple of million.

    This is a great post, and one that I will be sharing to my wall. Don’t stop writing. Pursue this subject. In fact, pursue many subjects. LOTS of people feel like you do… and that is what a writer does; holds up a mirror to society and reflects what is happening in that moment.

    A devoted fan

    • Rhiannon says:

      Thank you so much! That is a great way to look at it. Our initial reactions are always so black and white, yet no issue is ever that simple.