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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Why and When Do I Speak? Why and When Do I Silence Myself?

Maria Lutgarda Glorioso

Maria Lutgarda Glorioso

Maria Lutgarda Glorioso

I like to talk and have my voice heard. I enjoy joking around with my friends, catching up with my family, talking to my professors, and participating in classroom discussions. I like to speak my mind, regardless of who my audience is or who may be uncomfortable with what I have to say.

But it was not always this way. As the youngest in my large family, I was told to only speak when spoken to and never talk back to my elders. I have grown up in religious and social backgrounds where voicing your own and valid opinion was unwelcome. I have been told, scorned, and warned that I am too opinionated and, sometimes, too blunt.

Behind this talkative facade, there is a delicate balance between self-silencing and self-policing. I am often unsure of my place to speak and whether anyone cares about what I have to say. I am concerned with what other people will think of me and the things I say.

I typically think through the following for before speaking:

“Do I know enough to respond?”
“Is it my place to respond?”
“Do I care enough to have an answer?”
“How will this person think of me when I answer?”
“Will my answer be the right answer?” (Why do we think that there is a right and wrong answer/thought/opinion/response?)
“Will I look stupid?”
“I am going to look _________” (racist, sexist, oppressive, like a jerk/hater/hypocrite)

I am in this strange position where I like to think of myself as opinionated and talkative but appear quiet and observed. I do not know my place to speak and, oftentimes, do not think I have a place to speak. I contemplate my position and place as a friend, family member, university student, and a human. I am torn between my values and my identity.

Why and when do I speak? Why and when do I silence myself?

I speak when I feel comfortable and safe.
I speak when I am sure that I will not be judged. I speak when I am so confident in my ideas and opinions that others opinions or beliefs do not matter. I speak when I care.

I am silent when I feel threatened.
I am silent when I think my position or my reputation will be compromised. I am silent when I feel like I will be judged. I am silent when I do not care and when I perceive that others do not care.

Granted, there are circumstances where the freedom to speak is a matter of life or death. In which case, silence may be of one’s best interest. Assuming you live in a place with freedom of speech, who controls speech in your life? Your parents? Your professors? Your government? You?

Oct 27, 2017

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