“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” – Malala Yousafzai
It seems that every day, the volume of our conversations gets louder. Headlines using words like “destroy”, “disaster” and “debacle”. Facebook rants with all capital letters, curses, and multiple exclamation points. Twitter threads that go on for more than 20 entries, revealing the ineffectiveness of the 140-character limit.
And that’s just about sports.
Freedom of expression, including mean-spirited attacks, goes back to the founding of our nation. Inexpensive printing presses allowed rabble rousers to publish broadsheets denouncing their opponents. While our forefathers may have been well-read and scholarly, they were capable of the same harshness we see in electronic media today.
We can’t ignore the noise, but we can measure our response. The first step is to determine if we should respond at all. Some people argue from a point of selective ignorance – they refuse to acknowledge any facts that aren’t consistent with their opinion. Any attempt to engage in a civil discussion would be fruitless.
If we do decide to respond, then we should be sure to attack the idea, not the individual. We need to choose our words carefully. Consider how we would feel if the same adjectives or phrases were directed at us. The more derogatory the terms, the less likely they’ll have the intended impact.
This holds true in the face of the worst ideas. Racist marches are wrong. Anarchistic rioting is wrong. We can choose to remain civil – and forthright – in opposing these diametrically opposed, yet equally abhorrent movements. Lowering the volume isn’t the same as giving up.
We need to accept that even our best-intentioned actions may lead to angry, negative responses. Over 50 years ago, my uncle, Father John Fallon, flew to Selma with another priest to march with Martin Luther King, Jr. The local paper published their first-hand account of the experience.
At that time (and still today), not everyone agreed with his decision to march. They asked how protesting for civil rights fit in with the duties of a Catholic priest. These questions came not just from people in Alabama, but from members of his parish in a city outside of Boston. Yet Fr. John never responded with anger, but with reserved language – and the example of his actions.
This isn’t the first, nor will it be the last, period of social turmoil. Passion and conviction have been drivers of change for thousands of years. Amidst the shouting, there have been poets, politicians, and public orators whose words lead us in a better direction.
With the rise of social media, there’s a unique opportunity for every voice to be heard. We should consider how ours will sound.