There was diversity training at my office the other day, and it was painful (not because of the topic, only that it's so tedious). Everyone else was a good sport about it, but I wanted badly to leave. In any case, the instructor made a statement during the three hour session that seemed appropriate to mention here. She said, "Silence means consensus." I'm taking her statement out of context, of course, but I've heard this phrase used before and I don't agree with it. The point being made is this: if you don't speak up about someone's "wrong" behavior, then you're accepting of it and possibly even complicit in encouraging it. For instance, if someone is using derogatory or stereotypical terms when discussing others, not calling the person on it is the same as agreeing with it. But I think there are many other reasons why a person might remain silent.
A person might:
- See their silence as a rejection of the behavior, and their lack of participation, verbal or otherwise, is evidence of that;
- Think the behavior is unacceptable by personal standards, but realize that in most cases people should be entitled to their beliefs, however idiotic and wrong-headed they may be;
- Be lost in thought about it;
- Just not care to contribute anything;
- Be in shock;
- Have more important things on their mind, like what kind of groceries to get later or what to do once the weekend arrives;
- Plan to send a written note rather than discuss matters openly;
- Or any number of things.
What's funny is how much emphasis the instructor put on being open-minded. And yet she was quick to jump to conclusions about a person's silence. I'd say that is very judgmental. What is it about silence that troubles people so much?