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Silence, Listening, Censorship, Media

Twice this morning I have written a new blog posting about two things: the workshop at the prison last night, and Amy Goodman’s speech at the Oscar Romero Awards this past Sunday, which I heard rebroadcast on the radio as I was driving home from the prison. Twice, as I neared the end of my post, I accidentally hit a wrong key that navigated me away from my post and erased everything I’d just written. When that happens twice, I have to take stock. What do I NEED to say? Can I be more succinct? The clock is ticking.

Let me get to the crux of the connection I want to make. The workshop at the prison is in our last mad dash to the end of this semester: the men who are editors of The Midnight Special are making their final choices of what will go into the second edition. One man said he didn’t want to publish a story about prison rape because he wants his nine-year-old daughter to read the journal, and he doesn’t want her to see that. His comment led to a discussion of censorship, self-censorship, editorial ethics, audience, power, media (because now we’re part of it, no matter how small a part) and silence. Ultimately the men decided not to publish that story because there is other work of higher quality, not because of its content. But the conversation was powerful, leading me to feel once again that the process of putting this magazine together is more important than the product of our activity.

Gallo and I left the workshop exhilarated by the discussion, and when I found Amy Goodman’s voice on the radio driving home, it was as if she’d been listening to the conversation we’d just had, because she was talking about silence, about what the media chooses to reveal and what it doesn’t, and why.

Goodman has a completely different take on media coverage of Virginia Tech than I had, and she turned me around in the time it took me to drive home from the prison. I had been uncomfortable with media sensationalism. Goodman says it was “model” journalism because it included pictures of the people who died, stories of their lives, interviews with their loved ones. She said that is exactly what the media should be showing us–it should be bringing home to us the images and the facts that make horror real to us; she said this “model” should be applied to the media in Iraq, so that we see pictures and hear stories and meet the families of all the people who are dying in Iraq. All the people. She said if we listened to all their stories, saw all their pictures, and felt the un-sanitized reality of the atrocities that are taking place, we might make different demands on our government. She says we shouldn’t be silent about what horrifies us; she says silence cooperates in prolonging the horror.

Goodman repeated part of a column she wrote last December: “The phrase ‘We will not be silent’ goes back to the White Rose collective of World War II. A brother and sister named Hans and Sophie Scholl, with other students and professors, decided the best way to resist the Nazis was to disseminate information, so that the Germans would never be able to say, ‘We did not know.'” Goodman continues, “The collective distributed a series of pamphlets. On the bottom of one was printed the phrase ‘We will not be silent.’ The Nazis arrested Hans and Sophie as well as other collective members, tried them, found them guilty and beheaded them. But that motto should be the Hippocratic oath of the media today: ‘We will not be silent.'”

I hold that to my heart. As a result of my post in celebration of Nikki Giovanni’s speech at the Virginia Tech Convocation, someone tagged my blog as a “hate blog.” I was shocked by that (how can a celebration be hateful?), so I followed the link to the person who tagged me, and his blog says this: “Our goal is the establishment of a White Nation, exclusively for White citizens only. We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.” He, and several other bloggers who linked to my Nikki Giovanni post, pasted into their blogs a virulent attack on Nikki Giovanni that had nothing to do with her speech. What she said is, “We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did not deserve it…. No one deserves a tragedy.” But she’s a Black woman. I suppose if someone is afraid of Black people, a Black woman who will not be silent is a threat, and anyone who thanks her for speaking is hateful.

I believe it’s unskillful to meet hatred with hatred. The Buddhist approach to hatred is to meet it with honest looking and honest listening, with courage, and with as much compassion as we are capable of. I return to some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s words and find guidance in them. He says, “…it is crucial to look at the way we feed the hatred and violence within us and to take immediate steps to cut off the nourishment for our hatred and violence. When we react out of fear and hatred, we do not yet have a deep understanding of the situation…yet if we wait and follow the process of calming our anger, looking deeply into the situation, and listening with great will to understand the roots of suffering that are the cause of the violent actions, only then will we have sufficient insight ….”

I end with this, from a yoga teacher, which I found on Donna Woodka’s blog: “At the end of each of my classes, I say, ‘We show up, burn brightly, live passionately, hold nothing back, and when the moment is over, when our work is done, we step back and let go.'” –Rolf Gates, Meditations from the Mat.”

May I learn when to hold on and when to let go, when to be silent, and when not to be silent.

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2 responses to “Silence, Listening, Censorship, Media”

  1. jessie says:

    As a Quaker your words about silence are particularly thought provoking. For us silence is alive. It is where we thrive and find the core of our true selves. But that does not mean we remain silent in the face of injustice. Quaker teachings mandate speaking truth to power.
    Thanks, Kendall.

  2. admin says:

    Yes, Jessie. I’m looking for a life with room for extensive silence in it. Back on the 28th of March I posted a beautiful piece on silence by Juan Ramon Jiminez, sent to me by my friend Christopher. What I need to learn is when silence is nourishing and when it means speaking truth. I go on learning it. I didn’t realize you are a Quaker! Those are my roots in North Carolina. My great-grandmother Kendall, for whom I named myself, and her whole family were Quakers. When I lived in Lesotho I attended a Quaker meeting, but the one in the Houston area is two hours away from me via a network of expressways, sad to say, so I’ve never been.

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