When to be Silent, When to Speak Up

The popular saying “speech is silver but silence is golden” dates back to ancient Egypt. It probably means that in some circumstances the less you say the better it is. I can imagine that when you are in the company of strangers, discretion would be more appropriate than indiscretion.

Remaining silent also can represent a risk. In today’s world of overwhelming chatter and information overload, “silence is the most toxic strategy” to reputation and integrity. If we remain silent, someone else will fill the void with more made-up chatter and misinformation.

A lot of us also often tend to sit on the fence. To sit on the fence means you choose not to pick a side in an argument or fail to make a decision on a subject.

To me sitting on the fence is not a good character trait because I think it is important to clearly state what you believe in regardless of whether it fits with the popular consensus or not.  Your words and action are what people identify you with so if you are known to sit on the fence it would be difficult to assess your mindset.

Although I believe you shouldn’t sit on the fence, I understand that there are some situations which you may not be able to give a clear-cut answer due to the complexities of the scenario.

How then should we determine when is the time to remain silent and when is the time to speak? Each situation becomes a judgment call. I ask myself:

  1. Will my voice make a difference?
  2. Does engaging this time mean I will be more, or less effective the next time?
  3. How will I see myself in 20 years if I don’t speak up?”

I believe we should consider the well-being of those who will be impacted by our decision not to speak up.

As I see it, two of the fundamental values are fairness and loyalty. By remaining silent when faced with injustice, we are neither fair to others nor loyal to ourselves and our values.

As William Faulkner once said, “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world … would do this, it would change the earth.”

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