When silence isn’t golden

Watching the news this week has been a sickening, heartbreaking experience: the tragedies of lives taken, families torn apart and communities divided by anger, racism and violence – a cycle made more bleak by leaders who inflame and divide us, rather than heal and unite us.

I write this very conscious of the advantages I live with: knowledge, education, income, friendship, love, and few occasions to fear for my life, my health or my safety.

I enjoy these advantages in part because my family was able to overcome racism and violence: a Jewish father who lost two grandparents in the Holocaust, and himself narrowly escaped; a Latin American mother who had a family member taken and tortured by a military junta; Japanese Canadian parents-in-law whose property and prospects were stolen from them during their wartime internment.

My sister and I – and my wife, in her own childhood – dealt with the ripples and aftershocks of these experiences in the less diverse Canada of our youth: the bullying that came with being immigrants, or brown-skinned, or Asian.

We cannot comprehend the suffering of those affected by the events of the last week. But we can have empathy. And we can accept responsibility to play a part in change.

The past few months have brought forth many clichés about living in “unprecedented times,” and speculation about a “new normal” – as if we had a predictable destination, rather than ongoing and relentless change.

This could, however, be an inflection point – as so much human activity has been paused, and so much of the human race is sharing some form of common experience. Can this “unprecedented time” produce an unprecedented response to the fact that some experience these days in extreme comfort, while others endure extreme hardship?

What will our children tell their children about this moment? About what we said? About what we did? What would they want us to do now?

I don’t have the answers; only a few instincts.

I know they would not want us to be silent. Silence is complicity.

They would want us not only to create space to listen to those whose voices we don’t usually hear, but to actually seek them out.

They would want anyone with authority, power, influence or reach to speak out: leaders, businesses, institutions, community leaders and ordinary citizens.

They would surely want us to call out hatred posing as nationalism; to recognize honourable acts of individual and corporate conscience, citizenship and reconciliation; to hold authorities accountable; to democratize decisions; and to work toward opportunity and prosperity that are both sustainable and equitably shared. How can we make these things newly normal?

I do the work I do because I believe in the power of communication and relationships in the pursuit of mutual understanding, of truth, of trust, of social cohesion. Inclusion is one of our values, and we try to bring that lens to our work. Communication cannot give us a map to navigate the twisted path toward a more just society. But these principles, combined with ethics, can give us a compass. And our skills can give us a voice.

We must surely pause to remember those who have died so unjustly, and those who are living in pain. As we stop and reflect, let us also consider how each of us can use our voice to put our communities and our world on a wiser, saner path.

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