“There are few things as deafening as silence”, wrote Mario Benedetti. The silences hide illusions, fears, concerns, confusion, resignation … Silences carry a tide of emotions. However, we often prefer to think that the silence gives consent. We confuse silence with consent and fall into the fallacy of quietism.
What is the fallacy of quietism?
Fallacies are invalid inferences of reality that we use to justify our position. These are generally arguments that are not related to the ideas presented, but we often resort to them to force our interlocutor to accept the validity of an inconsistent thesis.
Some fallacies manipulate the facts, others leverage the linguistic aspect and resort to ambiguity, the incomprehensibility of the statements or the absence of meaning behind the ideas to confuse.
The fallacy of quietism is based on the idea that ”silence gives consent.” Whoever resorts to this fallacy maintains that the person who does not argue in his or her favor, does not defend himself or herself or does not intervene, agrees with the ideas introduced or with the state of things.
In fact, it is a type of argument from ignorance since silence and quietism are assumed to be a proof of consent. For example, we think that a person who does not speak out against weapons is in favor of their use.
Obviously, this is not the case. Silence is not always synonymous with consent. The only certainty is that silence is silence. The rest are inferences that we make according to what suits us best. Thinking that silence means consent implies ignoring the context and the signs that indicate that silence may be the result of fear or resignation.
Sigephobia, a society that fears silence
In 1997, the philosopher Raimon Panikkar said that sigephobia was one of the diseases of the century. He was referring to the fear of silence. In fact, many people are not completely comfortable with silence.
Being with someone, without saying anything, usually generates an “awkward silence”. Many times that feeling of discomfort is so compelling that it generates anxiety and pushes us to break that silence as soon as possible by bringing up any topic of conversation, no matter how banal, just to keep the noise. In reality, it is not a strange phenomenon if we take into account that we live in a society where the image and the word predominate, often even over the facts.
Silence scares us because it brings with it a bundle of deficiencies, hidden meanings, and dangers that we don’t really know how to understand and manage. Silence is imprecise, vague, indirect, and ambiguous. We can say many things through it, but those meanings cannot escape ambiguity. That is why we prefer to cling to words.
We fear the unsaid because it generates insecurity and uncertainty. We don’t really know how to react. That is why it is easier to take shortcuts and think that silence is synonymous with consent. But that inference implies abstracting from the context and obviating – often on purpose – that silence can be motivated by submission, fear or resignation.
The dangers of keeping silent about what we think or feel
Silence is a communicative decision. We decide what to shut up and what to say. We practice self-censorship when we keep quiet about things that could hurt others or ourselves. But when that silence is imposed by others, it is about repression or censorship.
Sometimes we keep silent because we fear the consequences of our words. We prefer to remain silent in the hope of avoiding conflict. Thus we end up letting pass many offensive behaviors and attitudes that can end up becoming a huge snowball that drags us down.
When we do not say what we think or express our disagreement, we are passively contributing to perpetuate the context that hurts or bothers us. By dint of silencing our ideas and emotions, we feed situations that can end up being much more harmful than the initial problem we wanted to avoid.
In this way, we can end up becoming hostages of what we keep silent, be it at the level of the couple, the family, work or society. Then we reach a point where we find ourselves in a completely unsatisfactory situation that we resign ourselves to continue to suffer in silence or we explode. Obviously, neither of these options is beneficial for our mental balance.
Break the silence
Sometimes keeping silence gives more strength to what we keep silent. Sometimes a silence says more than a thousand words. But sometimes not. The communicative success of silence does not depend only on us, but also on the sensitivity of our interlocutor.
Silence is a powerful weapon, but few know how to use and interpret it properly, so in a society that gives great importance to the explicit, sometimes it is better to speak. The word can clear doubts and limit the meaning of what is silenced.
Of course, we don’t always find the right words or valid arguments. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is to make our position clear when we are still not sure of our position. Sometimes we can simply ask for time to reflect. Indicating that we do not agree. Or even saying that we haven’t formed an opinion yet.
It is about finding a way so that the others can better understand how we feel or what we think, defend our assertive rights and not give way to people who may misinterpret our silences under the adage that “silence gives consent.”
Garcés, A. & López, a. (2020) A Logical Interpretation of Silence. Computación y Sistemas; 24(2).
Méndez, B. & Camargo, L. (2011) ¿Quien calla otorga? Funciones del silencio y su relación con la variable género. Memoria final del Máster Universitario de Lenguas y Literaturas Modernas: Universidad de las Islas Baleares.
Pannikkar, R. (1997) El silencio del Buddha. Una introducción al ateísmo religioso. Madrid, Siruela.