I said it before, and I’ll say it again: silence is scary. It means having to relinquish control of the conversation and allow another to take over.
There’s also a time when silence needs to be broken, and that time is now.
The other side of the double-edged sword of silence is that it is easy to be silent when tough issues come up. For fear of offending someone or losing favor with everyone present, we often choose to remain neutral and be a “people-pleaser.” This is someone I have been for the majority of my life, and I know that others fit this mold as well.
As a Catholic, it is apparent to me that many people will disagree with opinions and beliefs that I hold, and this often makes it difficult to have productive conversation with others about hot-button issues. I often think that I will come off as someone who believes they are perfect when I “preach” about these issues to others. But none of us are perfect, and none of us were made for silence when it comes to the truth. The other, darker side of silence is the fear that accompanies the decision to speak out against injustice, the fear that someone will disagree with me.
But I ask you: how will any one of us be encouraged to think critically about ourselves without confronting this inner fear?
Don’t miss the solo
I’ll bring it back to the land of music. I play trombone and have played in many different groups. Sometimes, if I’ve earned the opportunity, it will be my turn for a solo. The rest of the group builds to a point where the musicians and the audience expect to hear something bold and beautiful. If I miss my solo, all involved know that something about the music was wrong. The audience might not know that it was my fault, but my fellow musicians will. If that inner fear is holding you back from seizing the moment and speaking out as the music climaxes around you, don’t miss the solo.
“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:5
Right now, this inner fear is manifesting itself in all of us through racism. In the silence, we hear ourselves asking the question: “Is there racism inside of me?” How important it is to recognize when these questions appear and to critically evaluate the answer. But this is often something that we cannot do alone.
Let others help you perfect your music
Often, before I play music with a group, I have the opportunity to practice my part on my own. I play through it and think that it sounds good, and I am confident heading into the group rehearsal. However, when I start playing it with the group, I notice that my pitch is not corresponding to that of those around me. I also realize that the way I articulate my notes does not match that of others. Without the feedback and active participation of my fellow musicians, I could have gone my whole life thinking I was the greatest musician who ever lived. Sometimes, as painful and humbling as it may be, we need to enlist the help of those around us to see the plank in our own eye.
The beautiful part about recognizing my own mistakes and attempting my best to correct them is that I can improve the group as I do so. When I unselfishly change the way I play, I show respect for those around me and treat them as my equals. We can then all move forward together to make a rich, full piece of music.
Listen to the flutes
Silence is a give-and-take. In some moments, we are called to speak out, and in others we are called to listen. Being in the trombone section, I am designated to sit in the back of the band. This is mainly because it is much easier for me to produce a louder sound than a flute player, who sits in the front. Without this seating arrangement, the balance of the band would be completely thrown off, and the audience would not hear every section. Regardless of what the audience hears, it is normally a challenge for me to hear other sections as I play my loud brass instrument, and I have to put in lots of extra effort to play quietly and listen around the band. Perhaps the most humbling is when I am asked not to play for a time during rehearsal and to listen to the flute section play their part. Time after time, I shock myself to learn that I have no recollection of even hearing the flute part before they play it in isolation. It is a constant reminder of the importance of listening to the sections who may not have the volume that I have.
The same is true right now in our lives. It can be hard to realize, but many of us are trombones. And if I know anything about being a trombone player, it’s that we can sometimes find it difficult to listen. We are given the ability to speak loudly and conveniently are unable to hear the other sections. The director has given us an opportunity to listen to the flutes. The question to ask ourselves is this: Am I going to take this opportunity to listen to the flutes and improve the music quality of the entire group, or am I going to continue to treat my ears to the sound of merely the trombone section?
Help improve the music
When I can play my best solo, recognize my own mistakes, and listen to other parts of the band, the quality of the entire group achieves a new level of musicality. Music is never at its full potential without all of a group’s instruments. I will join anyone else who is willing to think critically about where racism and injustice lie inside. Let us listen to the voices that are now screaming to be heard and allow their section a chance to guide the melody.
Lord, give us the humility to realize where we may be at fault, especially as we work to identify the roots of racism in ourselves and in our culture. Allow us to have real and unselfish conversations and to empathetically listen to others. Give us the strength to overcome the fear inside us and to be bold in professing the truth about where there is injustice. Amen.