New Year Message – speaking out

30 December 2018

A wise person once said: there is a time to be silent and a time to speak.

Experience should teach us that on occasion it is right to give voice to something; yet on another it might be better for us to allow the situation to speak for itself.

For example: a good parent will know when to say something to chastise a child, or when to simply stare with a serious look, so that the child gets the message without the need for words. This approach can actually be received more effectively by the child than through a rant or rage.

My wife, Karen, is an Early Years teacher. She has a well-practiced stare, one that is honed to perfection – it can bring me up sharp far quicker than even carefully chosen words of rebuke.

Another Jewish proverb recognises the difficulty of knowing what to say at a time of tragedy. It is a moment, according to the saying, when a thousand words are not enough, yet one may be one too many. That is – in order to convey our feelings, we may find that thousands of words are insufficient, and yet one word out of place may do more harm than good.

Also, what may seem ok to say amongst close friends may not necessarily be acceptable in a wider audience. So, the appropriateness of what we say, when we say it and in what context is a matter for discernment.

Now, as one year ends and another begins we would do well to ask ourselves: when is it right to be silent and when is it a good time to speak out? Well, a saint was once asked: when should the silence be broken? To which the saint responded: only when you can improve upon it.

Surely we all want to improve our world. Surely we all want the coming year to be better than the last. Yet there is much anxiety about what lies ahead. Understandably so. We simply don’t know how the coming weeks are going to work out.

The time has come then for the silence of the many to be broken.

Young people are the ones whose futures are at stake here. Yet their voices are not being heard above the clamour of those whose years are drawing to a close.

A good number have chosen to keep schtum and let matters take their course. This has clearly not been a good policy of late.

If our fears about our nation and our world are to be addressed, we cannot leave it to those who like the sound of their own voices. Or indeed to those who have their own agendas.

For the sake of the common good here and now, and for the sake of the future, it is incumbent upon us to be part of the debate that is dividing our communities, pitting members of a family against one another and causing intransigent groups to form that are incapable of hearing what others are saying.

I have never known such blatant tribalism in British politics, even those of the same party seem incapable of communicating with one another in constructive, mature ways.

But it’s not just politicians who seem to be affected in this way. A few weeks ago I was horrified to hear a highly regarded British theologian state that when he meets an American these days he asks whether they voted for Trump; if they say they did, he walks away. In my honest opinion such an action serves no useful purpose whatsoever. Ending the conversation so abruptly is not only disrespectful it also eliminates the opportunity to learn from one another and ends any potential relationship.

The world becomes a sadder, more hurtful place the moment we choose to no longer communicate with respect or at all. Indeed, a failure to do so over the centuries has led to conflicts at both domestic and international levels.

  • Our voices, the voices of love and compassion, need to rise up and drown out those that are filled with anger and hate.
  • Our words, words of reason and truth, need to outnumber and overcome the lies of those who so readily dismiss the facts.
  • Our presence in this world is more significant and our contribution far greater than we sometimes realise.

As 2019 gets underway we all need to more carefully consider what we need to say and when, otherwise we may live to regret the silence or indeed how we have broken it.

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