The Year of the Silence Breakers

Ellen Yui, Molly Devlin and friends at the 2017 Women's March

Ellen Yui, Molly Devlin and friends at the 2017 Women's March

2017 was a rough year for the US and the world, with rampant and sometimes shocking division and conflict. As proof that darkness can give rise to light and cataclysm can shake loose consciousness, the conflicts catalyzed empowering movements, such as the Women’s Marches that took place around the world, as well as the earth-shattering #MeToo movement that upended previously untouchable sectors, systems and practices. After centuries during which huge swaths of our population were silenced, the majority population (i.e., women) has taken our anger and frustration and transmuted it into action. We are fearlessly speaking truth to power and demanding real, tangible change.

The tides have changed. We won’t be going back to same old, same old.

Open communication is the way forward. Not only does it shine a light on injustice, it frees perpetrators enslaved by their own self-destructive loathing and darkness. Starting a conversation is as simple as asking your neighbor how his/her day is going. It needn’t frighten nor be fraught, but it has to be started. Direct, in-person communication won’t always be easy, but to really connect and discuss, we need face time. It’s all too easy to forget the humanity behind the screen when you’re arguing or pontificating in Facebook comments or reading articles already in line with your biases. But angels don’t sing to the choir; they sing to the light.

People won’t (usually) yell at their neighbor for a differing viewpoint, but online they don’t always offer the same kindness. We need a return of empathetic communication; we need to see the value in talking to someone without trying to convince them that they’re wrong or debase their different opinion.  

As much as it may divide us, social media has become a more powerful tool for communicating than ever, with platforms like Twitter giving voice to the voiceless. There is no better example of the power of social media to convey courage and propel consciousness than #MeToo, which ripped open an awareness of the shocking pervasiveness of sexual assault and workplace harassment. The tidal wave of tweets and Facebook posts became both rallying cry and platform for survivors and opened a dialogue, helping us grasp the enormity of the problem and the need for real change. It also redefined “victim” by showing that both assault and the rampant enabling of it reached across gender and race lines, touching even the powerful, even the most trusted. Opening these wounds was painful, but it paved the way for people to speak up and show up, which was especially liberating for people who were assaulted by someone in power. Twitter did that. A single woman, Tarana Burke, did that. She raised her voice and a chorus joined in. Honest talk built bridges.  

In 2018, continuing to learn how to deeply and truly listen to one another will be more important than ever. To really get to the root of the problem and to heal and grow, the dialogue needs to shift from “us vs. them” to a compassionate belief that we can be and do better. We’re all in this together…as both problem and solution. Listening is what has given us the power to unite. Rather than having a knee-jerk reaction to a Facebook comment, listen with the intent to understand another worldview. It allows us to find common ground and hold space for each other. It can connect us in new and deeper ways. Bearing witness to someone’s truth or purpose is empowering for both parties. Really listening…making another feel heard…gives collaboration and growth an opportunity to flourish. True communication and shared passion empowers us to make real change, because it brings us together and, as the great Leslie Knope once said, “No one achieves anything alone.”

It takes a chorus of angels.

Ellen Yui & Molly Devlin