What has greater risk to speak up or remain silence?
Speaking up: an action that empowers, liberates, and instills confidence in us. Yet, strings interwoven with fear and anxiety chain us into our safe zone– silence. These strings bind us, leaving us breathless, speechless, and afraid. Although neutrality may seem comfortable, silence enslaves us with disapproval, destroying our ability to discern right from wrong. Our true feelings are the ropes entangling us whispering, “don’t speak, it’s too risky.”
The risk of silence is even greater, crushing dignity with shame and humiliation. We must realize, regardless of our deeply embedded fears, that traumatic experiences and wrong, malicious doings others commit are inevitable. There will always be a malevolent, spiteful, and vindictive offender that threatens us with their vengeance and power. However, despite these perpetrators’ cruel deeds, no signs point to surrender and succumbing to their authority. We must shatter our silence and speak out to immediately combat these villains who shoot bullets into our society, our communities, and our families. Speaking up and protecting our rights is essential for the past, the present, and for the future because of how we learn to obtain justice and the steps we take to move forward.
The significance of the past is often overlooked. Past events provide perspectives to learn from and references when directing our next steps. When distressing incidents occur, it is important to reflect on not only how to avoid them, but how to relieve the agony. For instance, post experiencing sexual harassment, many feel powerless, weak, and depressed. The disturbing image of oppressor frequently reappears in the victim’s mind as they vomit disgustedly at the thought. When keeping these feelings knotted up inside, it is impossible to escape internal conflict. Survivors of horrific events, such as genocides and mass shootings, are inevitably tangled in distress. Many historical examples rouse from this, one of the most important being the Holocaust. For many survivors, sharing their poignant, yet brave tales of survival was one of the hardest obstacles for them to overcome when beginning a new life. The embarrassment and fear these survivors bore flooded their ability to speak up; their nerve-wracking memories were tormenting even while they were literally out of their harrowing situation. However, once the wave of courage rose, many were relieved of their anguish, and some were even motivated to fight for human rights and change, one example being Elie Wiesel. His inspirational, stirring words and kind, generous endeavors led him not only to win honorable awards, but more importantly, feeling satisfied and strong as well as helping others.
Sexual harassment and bullying often leave the victims saying, “don’t talk, just ignore it, it shall pass.” For example, the Larry Nasser incident appalled witnesses, gasping with both hands over their mouth. It was difficult and concerning to hear that one of the most reputable doctors in the field was assaulting his patients. The athletes hesitated to speak up as they were silenced time and time again: furthermore, this mind boggling, stomach churning crime was shoved under the rug by those aware of it (Michigan State, USA Gymnastics, etc.) Even as early as 1998, gymnasts under his care were being molested. While this chain of violation continued, these athletes carried with them an inescapable trauma. Over the past decade, the allegations swamping the press and the “Me too” movement shed a spotlight on these gymnasts- a chance to speak. Olympic gymnast and lawyer, Rachel Denhollander, was the torch bearer of this motion. It took her perseverance and a sole newspaper reporter that believed her to investigate the entirety of the case and bring it to light. Other victims were empowered by her strength and were inspired to speak out. Consequently, trials began to convict this wicked, immoral monster. The dormant volcano of misconduct erupted, spewing with over 250 claims of harassment and definitively, Nasser was thrown into prison. Although many of our traumas may not reach the extremities of these brave survivors, the concept of alleviating pain, feeling rewarded and confident when sharing your story is quite similar. When speaking up, a sense of empowerment, pride, and freedom liberates you. Supporters will rise and begin relating to you, sympathize, and even battle for justice: although you may feel isolated and betrayed, you never stand alone.
The causes of speaking up seem obvious in the present as the solution to the problem is often easy to think of. However, what hinders the process of obtaining justice is the victim(s) speaking up immediately. When violated, subduing the oppressive situation comes first. From experience, I can tell you that most run away from their hardships in efforts to escape their stressful situation; some may even begin expressing themselves in unhealthy ways (drugs, alcohol, hurting themselves, etc.). When teens are not supported they especially grow resentful of their parents and friends; unfortunately, through difficult times like these, relationships are often torn apart as the slew of issues accumulate. While attempted repression fails, those who face the situation head on become stronger and more confident. When looking to speak up, many trepidations may rise such as, “What if no one believes me?” “What if my friends turn on me?”or “What if I get into more trouble?” While these apprehensions are valid, one must understand the importance of moving beyond fear because the victims’ vulnerability and weakness grows. In times like these, you must show you are strong and are not to be messed with, as defending and protecting yourself is the priority. In life threatening circumstances, such as persecutions, speaking up against the perpetrator is almost impossible. But when a witness observes these lethal cruelties and they are not threatened, it is their responsibility to inform someone. If solely spectating, regret slowly consumes the victims and the witness’ prolonged silence, as their confidence and trust deteriorate.
The witness is a prominent part of speaking up. Although realistically we are all on our own, when the pinnacle of oppression is reached, the bystanders must all congregate to fight for the victims- whether it is through connections to authority or directly to the source (depends on the situation of course). As we can see in the Larry Nasser incident, many organizations knew what was occurring, but they stood by ignorantly. “Why?” we wonder. In this era, reputation is often set before morality and ethics. Conspicuous scandal would obviously relegate the prestige of the institution as lawsuits would be plausible. Repeatedly, we can see issues are crumbled, hushed, and minimized as guilt feeds on the silenced. Many bystanders may comment, “this will not happen to me, it doesn’t matter.” When something happens to that witness however, the observers on the outside will mention the same thing: this is one of the many reasons why cases of assault and harassment reoccur. These victims and witnesses who don’t speak in the present are left deserted from themselves, their self esteem, and strength; they feel regretful and guilty, choosing silence over advocating for a worthy reason. The bubble of character that is yourself, that your family loves, and your friends cherish, pops. Do not compromise your true self and create a facade fostered by fear, remorse, and guilt that masks your identity.
In the end, the future is the purpose of our war against oppression. We long for our wishes granted, our prayers answered, and justice to be rightfully served. Regardless of grappling with the anguish of the past or the hardships of the present, the future is the promising source one looks to for hope. The new generation is where we turn for the saying “never again” to ring true. However, the harsh reality is that even after catastrophes occur and the world reflects in sadness and apology, the question of will it happen again remains unanswered. Now, with the surfacing of the “Me Too” movement, the final alarm has been reverberating “it’s enough.” It has been enough endless oppression innocent people are subjected to. There have been enough sick and resentful people in this world that have resorted to notorious crime to express themselves. Let’s influence the future referencing the past and relieving agony so our traumas and anxieties do not transform into cruel practices. Let’s influence the future by speaking up in the present to quell the harassment of innocent people and feel strong and empowered. Our future’s fate lies partly in our hands; influence the future by speaking up for what’s right and killing the cancer that ties us with fear, tangles our confidence, and chokes our ability to speak.