The ‘Silence is Golden’ Rule

Dianne St. Jean

There is much talk about opening up on the mainstream news these days. Once the floodgates of sexual abuse and harassment allegations started pouring in, more women began speaking up about their own experiences.

Speaking about speaking up, let’s ask the question out loud that nearly everyone else has asked or wants to ask: Why didn’t they say something sooner?

There is no “one right answer” to this question. Every situation is different, so every person’s reasons may also be different. It could be anything from shame and humiliation, to fear of reputation or not being believed, and in some cases, wanting to get that role on television or the movies.

Aside from that, I believe that not speaking up when we experience personal injustice goes deeper than that. I think the reason why people - not just those who have been taken advantage of and abused sexually, but also in every other aspect of life – do not speak up sooner because of social protocol.

The well-known song “Silence is Golden” released in 1964, gives us a glimpse of the attitude of silence that has dominated our society for years. It speaks about someone observing a woman in an abusive relationship and wanting to say something; but he decides against it. The chorus goes: Silence is golden – but my eyes still see. Silence is golden, golden - but my eyes still see.

Unfortunately, that silent golden rule of silence has prevailed for generations. In other words, even when there has been obvious abuse or injustice, people were subliminally trained to keep their mouth shut.

The phrase “silence is golden” actually stems from an old proverb whose complete saying was “Speech is silver, but silence is golden”. In other words, as gold is more precious than silver, it was presumed that it is often better to say nothing.

In some circumstances, it is better not to say anything – sometimes people can be too opinionated or say too much (I’m not speaking of abuse here, just matters of personal opinion), but there are also “natural” consequences to that age-old golden rule of silence.

Often people who are being abused or manipulated don’t speak up because they don’t want to “rock the boat”, or they believe they can handle it, and even in some cases, don’t even realize for a time that what they are putting up with is actually affecting them negatively.

No one can suffer mistreatment and the effects not come to the surface. Unfortunately, often those effects come out in an ugly form: in cases of sexual abuse – the victim usually gives up any belief of personal value and takes on a dangerous lifestyle such as promiscuity or substance abuse. In more subtle cases, the victim of a passive-aggressive abuser (one who appears quiet or good on the outside) often ends up being unable to suppress the frustration and pain, and if not heard, ends up spilling over in bitterness or anger. Sad to say, the effects on the victims end up making them look like the bad person.

So what is the balance? Personally, I’ve come to believe that there can be a golden rule of silence.

Silence is not golden when it covers up abuse or injustice. Apart from that, you may not like or agree with what someone else is doing, but if it is not abuse or injustice, put on the gold.