Silence can be deadly.
It happened a number of years ago in a meeting. All those present had been Christians for many years. All were church leaders. One man present was having a difficult time on a number of fronts. He began to express this to the group. Finally he stopped talking. The group was silent. Finally the chairman said, “The next item on the agenda is ….”
The man who had been transparent about his struggles later said, “I won’t ever do that again. I won’t ever open up to that group again.”
Silence can be deadly.
• You pour out your heart to your friend in an e-mail after being betrayed at work. Your friend doesn’t respond. Several weeks later, you ask if she ever received your note. “Yes, I was going to write you back. I’ve been busy.”
• You write a letter of serious concerns to the leaders in your congregation. You never receive a reply.
• You express some deep personal concerns to your dad or mom in an e-mail. These were difficult for you to write. You never hear back from your parents
• You are being harshly chewed out by someone in front of a group of friends. Yet, not a single person says one word in your defense. They remain silent.
• You express an opinion in a class. The teacher doesn’t even acknowledge what you said. He is silent for a few seconds and then moves on with his material. For a moment you feel quite silly.
• You leave two voice messages on your friend’s cell phone asking her to call you back. You’ve learned that your father has cancer and you need to talk. She never calls you back.
In churches, most people are not mean and do not intend to hurt. (No, I am not naive. I know there are some very mean and cantankerous people who spend time in church buildings.) I am specifically focusing on people who have been hurt through the thoughtless passivity and silence of others.
• How do you respond at work when someone tells you that the weekend was difficult?
• What do you say when a friend tells you on coffee break that she has been very depressed lately?
• What do you say to a high school student who says that high school is horrible?
• How do you respond when a friend at the university tells you that he feels totally stressed out about what is going on back home?
“But I don’t know what to say.” That’s OK. So often I don’t really know what to say either. What you can do is actively listen. You can show interest. You can ask questions. You can show concern.
Anything but complete silence.
This silence communicates volumes if you are on the other end. Silence can cause another to feel not valuable. Dead silence leaves a person believing that her feelings or actions apparently mean little or nothing.
This is not about knowing exactly what to say when a person attempts to connect with you. However, respond with concern or compassion. Be interested. That might mean more than you realize.
What does it do to a person when his/her friends remain silent while he is being verbally mistreated?