Biggest Regret? My Silences.

"We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced." Malala Yousafazi

“We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced.” Malala Yousafazi

“What I most regretted were my silences,” said Audre Lorde.

The thought came as Ms. Lorde looked back on her life while awaiting word on whether a tumor taken from her breast was malignant.

Now she asks us:

• What tyrannies do you swallow?

• What do you need to say?

• What are the words you do not yet have?

Joseph, a student of mine, wrote about these questions in an essay. He began by quoting Audre:

To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly now, without regard or whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned some day to speak, or waited for someone else’s words.

Joseph reflected on this, saying:

I believe this quote applies to everybody walking on this earth. Every human has their struggles and their untold stories. I, for one, have my fair share of silences, so I strongly relate to what Audre Lorde said.

I also agree with what her daughter said:

If you don’t speak it out, one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside.

And then Joseph shared this story:

I went to an all boys school where my teacher mentored and groomed us for our examinations. I wondered why he put in so much effort. Then one day he invited me to his house for dinner. The gesture felt odd but I accepted nonetheless, out of my respect for him. Alone in his home he came onto me. I didn’t know what to do. I was worried about possibly ruining my school career — and his as well — and let him touch me. I was naïve and too afraid to approach any authorities.

I swallowed the tyranny.

Looking back, being silent did not resolve the situation. Which was that my teacher committed a heinous act that should have been reported.

It made me think of what Audrey Lorde said:

My silences have not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.

We can all reflect on these questions:

• What are the tyrannies you swallow?

• What do you need to say?

• What are the words you do not yet have?

Joseph allowed me to quote from his essay.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on June 7, 2017, in feminism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. I enjoyed this blog very much. I can relate to it in many forms. I used to be scared of my reality it seemed too ugly to bear. The second I learned to accept it, I began to see things in a different light and suddenly all my fears were now some form of knowledge and peace all at the same time. I think it is a great idea to speak about our fears but I think it is even a greater idea to speak about the things that scare us the most in a truthful manner when we speak to ourselves. I think the one person we must be true to, is ourselves.

  2. FHill_Spr'17JR

    I started reading a lot more Audre Lorde’s poems. One of my favorite poems she wrote was “There is No Hierarchy of Oppressions”. Basically she is saying that no group deserves to be less oppressed than the other. Audre Lorde ties in the theme of intersectionality. Intersectionality means that a person is not defined by one component of their identity. One component of their identity could be their race. However there are other components of their identity as well such as their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, economic status, and other things. Audre Lorde argues that if a person is oppressed for their gender, then also their race, sexual orientation, race, religion, and economic status is also oppressed.

    She is makes the point that a group fighting for rights needs to fight for all the rights of people. For example a group can fight for African American rights. People in these groups need to realized that everyone in this group is African American and something else. There are African Americans part of the LGBTQ community, there are women African Americans, there are Muslim African Americans, there are rich African Americans, and many other African Americans. So if the groups win equality for African Americans, the battle is not over. That is because if the Asians are discriminated against, there may be African American Asians who are discriminated. If women are discriminated against then the battle is not over because African American women can be discriminated against. If the LGBTQ community is discriminated against then the battle is not over because gay and lesbian African-Americans can be discriminated against.

    That is why when one group is oppressed then all groups are oppressed. All groups fighting oppression should be supporting and helping each other. This is because according to intersectionality, there are multiple components of our identity. These multiple components means that there are multiple communities we belong to. If one of these components of our identity is discriminated against, then our whole self is discriminated.

    This is my favorite Audre Lorde poem. I am glad she was a great advocate during times when people were fighting for equal treatment.

  3. Its do true that many regrets in life are things we never said or did, I think everyone can relate to that in one way or another. And usually silence is not the best route, speaking up and letting your voice and opinion be heard is the best way and you’ll be glad you did it. And Joseph’s experience is horrible to hear, and sadly I’m sure that happens all too often when a young naïve child is taken advantage of by someone they know or admire. Its sad to hear he didn’t speak up and tell somebody about what happened because no one should go through that, and he’s right being silent may seem like a resolution but it never is.

  4. I really resonated with Joseph’s story. It is hard to speak out sometimes when your mind and body are in shock with what is going on. There are so many emotions going through your head that everything in your world clams up. Fear, anxiety, shock, anger, confusion. Although this barrage of emotions is overwhelming, individuals must fight back to protect themselves from scenarios like these. Whether it be through verbal communication or physical engagement, taking a stand versus these threats are crucial to how we move our society and minds forward. I do empathize dearly with Joseph and I wish him well. He makes a simple yet powerful point that silence cannot protect yourself or others in time of desperate need. It reminds me a lot of when we are in the shower and think to ourselves what we should have said in an earlier argument or predicament rather than stay quiet.

  5. One thing I have learned from my past relationship is that silence does not let you grow as a person or help strengthen your relationship. Bottling something internally only lets it burn on the inside. In high school I wrote a piece where I compared a hug to a dome. Recieving a hug when you are sad is a dome for you to release the bomb of emotion you had bottled up. The dome represents support and acceptance of the problem one faces. There have been so many times I felt like I wanted to say something, but I feared the consequences that could’ve followed. I do not regret my actions in the past because it formed the 2.0 version of myself where communication is a virtue.

  6. I believe that people like Joseph stay silent because of the backlash they will get, whether it is positive or negative. They will rather stay silent than listening to all the voiced repeat the story and input their opinions when in reality they just want it to be over with it. As dark as it sounds, being silent can be deadly. It is better to say what has happened or what you feel then later regret not telling someone. It takes only one person (the right person) to tell so you can feel better and maybe get the closure that they deserve. I cannot even imagine how Joseph is feeling still to this day, I really hope he broke the silence and talked to someone just so he can let it out verbally. I haven’t been through anything even similar to this but I do know the regret of not telling someone what happened or how you feel. Just yesterday I had the chance to tell my group of friends how I have been feeling, however I did not because I was afraid of what they were going to say when I told them, so i stayed silent. Today, i regret it because i do not know when I will get that chance again and I wish I have told them because it is still stuck in my head.

  7. Silence can make the ocean look empty, don’t ever keep your voice down because of someone else!

    I did the same mistake for 20 years, self harming and crying to sleep every night.

    Every human being deserves happiness, no matter what sins they’ve committed.

    This is the only life you’ve got, make it or break it.

  8. Reagan Newton

    I completely agree with what Joseph said, that everyone has a truth about them that they have not told. I think for some, that truth has not been told because they are scared. Sadly, there are few people who actually care and love us, and in a lot of cases, the rest of the people are just curious. It takes a lot of courage to speak your own truth and it is humiliating and degrading when you are heard but you are not listened to.

  9. I hope Joseph is alright, and is able to find help and peace. Abusers often profit off a person’s silence. They’re often a figure of authority, a respected member of whatever community they’re in. The victim might feel as though speaking out against their abuser would be to speak out against the community as a whole.

    Abusers rely on silence. They can get away with many things, so long as the victim does not speak. I think this can be found through many aspects of life. If something’s wrong, if something doesn’t feel right, if something is hurting you, you should speak up. Be loud, be abrasive if you have to be, and don’t give into the silence. That being said, I understand that something such as this is not an easy thing to do. Abusers can appear very charming and “welcoming” when around other people, making it hard for the victim to be heard.

  10. I totally agree with the thoughts. One thing about silence is that there will be one day we will regret what we did not say and it will be already late. I personally regret a lot of things that I didn’t say to my loved ones before they passed away. And this is something very painful. Sometimes we say we learn from our mistakes and it is true. But also in certain situations, silence comes from the fear of what people are going to say or how are they going to react.I’m still afraid to talk because it can be a problem of self-confidence in some cases.

  11. Excellent post, dear Georgia. Silence is a form of assent, I´d say… And I didn´t make it up: it is a both a fact and an axiom (In civil-Private Law, for example)
    Discussion, dialogue, freedom of expression are organic elements of Democracy.
    I wonder what is happening to us… We seem to afraid, and shy—-
    I have just read this post, which I´d like to share with you, cause it seems it might point out in the same direction: the dangers of passivity and… political correctness!…
    https://arwenaragornstar.com/2017/06/04/enough/ Sending all my best wishes! 😉

    • Well I’m a liberal who is also an activist. I meet with members of Congress and develop relationships with them so I’m not passive. I also belong to some activist groups who are trying to get the corrupting influence of big money out of politics.

      The problem with the post you linked to is that it plays into the hands of the terrorists. And I intend to write more on this later. Here’s what happens:

      ISIL warns Muslims that the West hates them. Feeling like the west hates them gets them angry and radicalized and they become terrorists. Which is why ISIL warns Muslims that the West hates them.

      If you try to deal with this problem by demonizing Islam and instituting a Muslim ban you anger and radicalize the people who are already there.

      You have to look at the root cause of the problem.

      I just looked up the size of the Muslim population in America and France: 3.3 vs 4.7 million. So the French have more but they have many more attacks than we do — a rate that is larger than what you expect for the difference in total population.

      I know a lot of Muslims. Several of my students are Muslim. One member of that faith lives across the street from me and we go out to lunch from time to time. After 9/11 my neighbors had a dinner for her and her husband. She tells me that America is her favorite country out of all the places she has lived, including Bangladesh and Germany. Her husband has told me he sees himself as an American. He’s not the only Muslim who has told me they see themselves as Americans. In the United States is easier to feel American in our melting pot. And Muslims don’t typically feel discriminated against, at least not in the same way they do in places like France.

      So if France tries to deport Muslims that will just create anger and frustration and increase terrorism. If France does more to integrate Muslims into their society that would help a lot.

      Some Muslims in France work hard to keep their people from integrating into French society and I think that needs to be explored and talked about. Why does it happen? Who benefits?

      Fundamentalists of every stripe tend toward have a domination mindset. And domination mindsets correlate with higher levels of conflict.

      I do think that France has every right — and necessity — to work to keep their culture and their egalitarian values.

      • I agree with you when you say:

        “If you try to deal with this problem by demonizing Islam and instituting a Muslim ban you anger and radicalize the people who are already there”…

        Also as to the situation in France…. I´d add that France has been a colonial country, same way that UK and Spain were. Xenophobia and racism are misfortunes resulting of those practices: I have no doubt about that.
        When it comes to US I believe the cultural influence is undeniable, on a global scale. But It is not an imperialist country, at all. (I´d put aside the wars in the East as they are not necessarily Wars of conquest, in the traditional sense. Its hegemony is cultural… And I believe television, media & celebrity culture shows us “your” reality on a daily basis. Argentina is the country in which most schools have English as a second language, throughout Latin America, so there you have an indicator.

        I see what you say as to an eventual muslim ban in France. We must keep in mind what happened S11 in US too.

        As I said in my comment on that blog (which was awaiting moderation): I have mixed feelings as to the whole issue… (And that) I believe it is hard to avoid stereotypes when actions are so blunt. I guess a comparable example, culturally speaking could be The Nazi Germany… After a country (or Nation) is identified as the perpetrator of acts of terrorism or genocide… How would their people despoil from that burden… Germany has to work hard on that… In “Where to invade next?” Michael Moore speaks of that issue in particular and so does Hannah Arendt in her book “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” (1963). Collective guilt is the counterpoint of the cultural stereotypes that condemn a nation group for the actions of a “mere” faction.
        It is really hard to solve the riddle when it comes to this identification.

        Thanks so much for the comment back!. Very enlightening!. Sending best wishes 😉

      • It is a difficult matter. Always interesting to hear your thoughts. Thank you.

        I don’t see any other comments from you???

      • I know, right?… Agree with you. Quite busy and not so much on blogs lately. I often do the complete tour after I have posted, to be honest… But will make time for you!. Your blog is one of my favorites, in case I haven´t told you.. 😉

      • Why thank you. I love learning more about mythology too. Mythology is one of the things I’m most interested in.

      • Excellent to be in touch with you, Georgia! 😀 xx

  12. Nick Hellmuth

    I have often wondered why it is that victims of such heinous acts and human rights violations seem to feel so much more shame rather than say, anger, or indignation. Feeling shame for being victimized seems so universal, though, it doesn’t seem to apply to just one demographic or another(although there probably is some cultural variance). These people are victims, arguably doing nothing to little to deserve what they received, so why feel shame? I think, and I could be wrong because I really don’t have much first hand experience with this phenomena, that it is because that we internalize victim blaming. I think people tend to victim blame because most people have an internal sense of justice in the world, or at the very least a sense of action-reaction, which means if something bad happens to someone then there must be a good reason as to why. Don’t get me wrong, there is always a reason as to why things occur and denying that fact only keeps us ignorant, however, I think victims use this type of thinking on themselves in a bad way. They probably feel, to en extent, that they did something deserving of their abuse or are someone deserving of their abuse, just as many victim blamers would agree, which is were shame comes in. This is all just a theory, but when it comes to victim blaming, I really wish that we, as a people, could find a way to move past this type of thinking, as it only serves to skew peoples view of the world, obstruct justice, and worsens peoples trauma.

    • And it’s important to note that not every crime leads to victim-blaming. So culture must be involved.

      It tends to be crimes that are typically committed by men against women, like sexual assault. And so you get that pattern in patriarchies that privilege men and under underprivileged women. Now add homophobia (which is also tied to patriarchy) so assaulted boys and men feel ashamed too.

      But if someone robs a house or holds them up I don’t think the victims tend to feel ashamed.

  13. Silence keeps the silence to death. After reading so many similar stories, I cannot help but wonder: are these common experiences in majority? Joseph’s story looks familiar to me. That guy a police officer lived next to our house, and was asked taking care of me and my older brother for a favor in my childhood. As he was a policeman and our neighbor, he can just walk into our house without permission when there’s no adults at home, he put his arm around me from the back and force me to kiss him. I didn’t tell anyone. I think it’s probably because he represented as authority to me. How could this guy a bad buy if my grandma asked him to take care of us? Silence keeps silent until my adulthood. Sometimes I still feel nauseous when my partner hugs me from my back. I think it will last forever.

  14. I think one of the hardest things about silence is that it creates shame. Obviously if we have been victimized, it is not our shame to bear, but feeling like I didn’t speak up means ultimately I’m disappointed with myself.

  15. Wishing Joseph healing, and ALL THE VOICE he needs to speak himself into​ his future.

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