Why Silence Matters

Kenyans have a long and inglorious national tradition of silencing each other. Discussions and debates end when one’s interlocutor slinks off debased, humiliated, and rightly trumped.

I have recently had the rather interesting experience of participating in an online discussion. It quickly made me realize that I have no stomach for the style of discussion that is deemed acceptable. Were I a braver creature, I would withdraw the particular piece of writing I submitted (was actually solicited to submit).

Much can be said about what I wrote, when I wrote it, and why I wrote it. At present, that is not a discussion I am willing to have, certainly not within the atmosphere that has been created around it.

What troubles me the most is a style of discussion that is so aggressive, so intent to win at all costs that it actually fails to be productive. What troubles me is a form of discussion whose ultimate goal, it seems to me, is less to engage with the difficult foreignness of an author’s ideas, and more to score points (I’m not sure what the prize is).

What troubles me, most of all, is a form of discussion whose ultimate, if unintended, consequence, is to cause participants, such as me, to withdraw to their own little spaces and write posts like this one.

Now, I might certainly be accused of attacking my interlocutors from a distance, from the safety of my own space where I can monitor and delete comments. I may also be accused of being too sensitive, running away because I know my ideas are both dangerous and indefensible. I might also be accused of being intellectually impoverished, withdrawing into silence because I know I cannot match myself against truly intelligent people. These may all be true. But I am, quite frankly, uninterested in engaging any of them.

What troubles me is that we fail to make the connection between the violence of our debates and the violence we claim to abhor, as though we still believe in that old tale about sticks and stones.

Most of all, I am troubled by the implicit assumption that winning debates by silencing each other is worth it.

On this matter, I have no more to say.