Staying silent: a respectful choice

I sit in a local restaurant, sipping a drink while waiting for a colleague to arrive. A couple tables away, two individuals are discussing a certain crime that was allegedly committed near campus several months ago.

These two individuals, whom I took to be students, voiced their opinions that those of us who do not actively protest such crimes are, in fact, endorsing said crimes.

This idea, known as a “false dilemma,” is one that seems to be very popular among young people and those with certain political and religious ideologies. Simply put, people who subscribe to this concept maintain that there are but only two sides to any given conflict, and that in the absence of endorsing one given side, one is showing his or her approval and endorsement of the other side. To them the world is black and white with no shades of gray in between and no spectrum to analyze.

A college campus is rife with opportunities to see this phenomenon firsthand. Students are constantly bombarded with messages of acceptance, diversity and understanding. However, an undercurrent in many of these messages is, “If you aren’t with us, you’re against us.” We are told repeatedly that we must fully integrate ourselves into campus culture, openly accept such beliefs (on their terms), and to do anything less is an affront to the rights and beliefs of others.

Looking at the world as if every issue were a simple binary choice is common among children. However, as we grow and mature, our ability to rationally analyze situations grows with us.

For example, I’m a white, straight, Christian male. My demographic is responsible for most of the horrible stuff that has happened on this planet ever since the days of Constantine. However, I don’t actively and vocally protest the actions of the KKK or the Westboro Baptist Church. My decision not to vocally and publicly condemn such groups on a daily basis does not mean and should not imply that I support them.

During the Bush administration, when it was official American policy to perform torture on fellow human beings in a manner adopted with relish from the Nazis, I did not actively protest on the streets. I certainly did not and do not condone such tactics; I will, indeed, cheer loudly and open my best bottle of spirits the day that Bush and Cheney are put on trial for war crimes. However, as for today, I will go about my daily life choosing not to engage in a constant stream of condemning rhetoric.

I firmly believe that everyone should be able to stand proudly for their beliefs and not be silenced while expressing them. I also hope that those who choose to remain silent on any given topic will have that choice honored. Perhaps people who choose to refrain from engaging in a discourse or from involving themselves with certain issues do so because their beliefs might be seen as unpopular. I’m inclined to believe that most people who keep silent do so because they have better things to do.

All of us should be held without judgment for voicing our opinions—or choosing not to. To ask otherwise is to ask someone to humiliate themselves simply to prove their humanity.