There’s a famous adage that goes — ‘If speech is silver, silence is golden.’ So enamoured we have become with this popular saying that ‘silence’ has literally become the Indian mantra of life. It is, in fact, this strange ‘Art of Silent Living’ that is responsible for our reprehensible moral turpitude. Thus, no matter what happens around us, we choose to stay silent spectators, mutely observing but seldom reacting. It’s a strange phenomenon, indeed!
In fact, I am sure you’re aware of Gandhi’s Three Monkeys* – the mystic apes, who are a pictorial representation of the profound principle: ‘See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil.’ Whilst in the Buddhist traditions, the three apes preach ‘keeping one’s mind free from bad thoughts’; in the western tradition, the three monkeys are a reference to a lack of moral responsibility…a broken moral compass of sorts…where you look the other way instead of confronting the evil. In other words, the code becomes … ‘I SEE Evil. I HEAR the Devil. But I will NOT SPEAK.’ And that has become the biggest malaise facing our great big nation today…a unanimously declared universal reticence.
[*Gandhi’s three monkeys, in fact, are the Japanese Mizaru (covering his eyes), Kikazaru (covering his ears), and Iwazaru (covering his mouth).]
Sadly, when it comes to suffering, the world suffers a lot. But it suffers not because of the violence of bad people, but because of the silence of good people. Hence, the biggest sin is a silent man.
In fact, we too witness countless number of injustices everyday. As a matter of fact, if we prepared a bucket-list of India’s problems (against which we need to raise our voices), we would need a mighty big bucket [we’d probably need to have it custom-made]; for only then would it be able to contain the problems we face on a day-to-day basis. From human rights violation to crimes against women. From corruption to child abuse. From inflation to red tapism. From racism to casteism. From riots to caste violence. From pollution to population. Phew! And even though we come face to face with these issues everyday, we don’t even bat an eyelid!
But why do we choose silence?
While, it might seem that it is simply a lack of courage that makes us stay mum instead of speaking up (although that is the case in most cases), the truth is slightly more complex. Silence, in reality, has actually become our defence mechanism. In other words, it is a coping mechanism that we have adopted in the hope that hopelessness would not touch us and we can go on pretending that all is indeed well in the young democracy we call home.
And yet, silence IS NOT and CANNOT ever be the solution. Choosing to ignore a problem doesn’t make the problem go away. Au contraire, it inevitably leads to a further compounding of the problem till we can no longer ignore the elephant in the room. And for all those who argue, “I am but just a man. A lone voice. What difference can my lone voice make?”…To those silent souls, I would like to say, “Remember, it takes one voice, at just the right pitch, to rip through the heart of the coldest crystals as they shatter into a million pieces of glittering dust.” And that – ladies and gentlemen – is the power of a lone voice.
In fact, isn’t it amazing that when it comes to positive change, we are forever waiting around for a messiah…someone who will save us from us? Sadly, I don’t think we have the luxury of waiting around while the Lord decides to make an Earthly cameo again. Hence, we ourselves need to find the voice we were all born with and put it to good use.
In fact, let me leave you with a provocative poem written by Pastor Martin Niemoller titled ‘First they came’, which too was about the cowardly silence of German intellectuals who chose to remain mute spectators as the Nazi’s went about their systemic purging and persecution of their chosen targets – one group at a time. The poem, as displayed, in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, that aptly reads:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.