I had a seemingly innocuous email today asking my community garden group for a small, easily granted favour, that ended with the words “If I don’t hear from anyone I’ll take it that silence is consent”, and I started thinking about whether this is true, and what other meanings could reasonably be construed from silence : and it turns out they are not only varied, but many!
I don’t care
I don’t agree, but I don’t want to be awkward
My opinion has not been listened to in the past so I have stopped giving it.
I don’t like you, so I am not going to afford you the respect of an answer.
I hate you, so I am going to express that by trying to make you not exist.
I do not feel entitled to express my opinion.
I wasn’t listening.
You got my email address wrong.
You sent that to another person with a similar name to mine.
I feel uncomfortable expressing views that conflict with the majority.
I don’t know what I think.
I am shy of talking in public.
I find emails too impersonal.
I don’t understand all the issues.
I am too afraid to voice my opinion.
What’s the fuss about anyway?
Not you again : forever asking people for their views!
If I tell you that you are now giving or have ever given consent by your silence, this cannot be seen in any other way but as highly political and, in personal communications, deeply aggressive. It says “I am going to do what I want regardless of you and what you may think, and you do not have the power to stop me”. It challenges you to have a view and dares you to make me listen : it’s like
” We decided that at the meeting you didn’t come to”
“Well you’re quite welcome to check the minutes”
“Well in that case I will be forced to resign”
Community groups, in my experience, no matter how ostensibly apolitical their aims, are exactly like political parties in this respect : good people and nice people go in for all the right altruistic reasons, but are quickly driven or manoeuvred out by people who are looking for validation and power.
Permaculture has ‘people care’ as one of its three core principles : (the other two of which are ‘earth care’ and ‘fair shares’) and until now was the one I had thought least about, but I may start giving it the attention it deserves.
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do (or say!) nothing.