Silence and Kindness in the Wake of #Ferguson

The snow came on a Wednesday after the grand jury decision, and brought with it a bit of welcomed quiet on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Yet the very constant and often charged chatter in my newsfeeds remained as loud as ever.

At times like these, social media seems anything but social. That place where I go for mindless entertainment, to catch up on the lives of friends, to give my thumbs up for birthdays and anniversaries, to commiserate about Taylor Swift’s 1989 album suddenly becoming the soundtrack to my daily goings-on thanks to my nine-year-old…that place has looked a lot different. And I don’t always like what I see.

St. Louis is my home, always has been. I do not live in the Ferguson area, but it is the place where my mom grew up, where I still have family and friends. Once upon a time, my husband and I were so charmed with the historic old houses and the sense of community that we considered living there. So it could have been my home. And even if it couldn’t have been, it is still a part of the city I love with a prideful fire. It is surreal to see it on this worldwide stage. Usually, the world pretty much ignores St. Louis, unless it’s the baseball post-season. Even then, it’s not like we’re the Yankees.

Every part of what is now just known as #Ferguson is a tragedy. Loss of life, loss of community, loss of businesses, loss of reputation, loss of faith. It has become something bigger than me, bigger than all of us, and represents many different struggles I often sadly feel are so far from ever being resolved. All I have to do is look at any one of my social media feeds to have that sense of hopelessness driven home. So many people seem so sure about so many things, and so sure there is no room to consider alternatives. Too many people are using blatant, disgusting, and unapologetic tongues of hate. Yet there are just as many people speaking under the guise of progress and righteousness whose underlying messages are no better. Both kinds incite anger, obstinance, and widen the divide.

And then there are those who are quiet. I wonder most about those who are quiet. Some may accuse them of being too cowardly to speak out…or not willing to stir a pot that needs to be stirred…or guilty of that horrid disease known as apathy. Make a difference, silent ones. Choose a side. 

But then I wonder, what if we were all quiet? Not forever. Just for a moment. Long enough to take it all in. Long in enough to block out what everyone else is saying, and simply listen to ourselves. Long enough to consider things another way, without the fear of being judged, or accused of being a traitor, or having to do that awful thing of publicly swallowing our pride to admit someone else might be right.

It is what my friend, who is a social justice teacher, called the spirituality of silence; the idea that truth, understanding, and enlightenment come to us only when we can really quiet ourselves. For some, we are listening for God. For others, it may be whatever inner beliefs guide our sense of righteousness. And often, in that silence, we can find there are truths on all sides. Only in recognizing that can we then successfully work toward justice.

Once words are out there, they are out there forever. We live in a society that encourages, almost demands, immediate reactions. Thomas Merton, a 20th century Trappist monk, once wrote,

“There are many declarations made only because we think other people are expecting us to make them.  The silence of God should teach us when to speak and when not to speak.  But we cannot bear the thought of that silence, lest it cost us the trust and respect of men.”

After the grand jury decision, I felt paralyzed by those expectations. Everyone is posting about it. I should be posting about it. Maybe people think I don’t care. Does my silence speak louder than any words I might say? But I don’t know what to post.

All I did know was that I felt a lot of uncertainty. What’s more, my immediate reaction after the announcement of the grand jury decision looked different than my reaction did the next morning, which looked different from my reaction the next day. Only in my silence could I really see that, understand why that was so, and figure out what that meant for going forward.

So I remain quiet. But please don’t mistake silence for apathy. I am listening. I am deciding what I can do to make things better. I may not have taken to my blog, or to Facebook, or to Twitter, like so many others. But I can tell you what I did do. I smiled at everyone I locked eyes with that day after the grand jury decision. I was more patient behind the wheel. I said thank you a whole lot more. Regardless of how I feel about the events in #Ferguson, I know things are broken in ways that seem too big for me to fix. But for now, I can do my part by being kind, by teaching my children to be kind, and by speaking the language of peace. Those things are contagious. We all know they are.

I will continue to be heartbroken that my city has become the poster-child-of-the-moment for so much of what is wrong with our country. But in my core, I know how many smiled back at me the other day. I see the countless stories of selfless people helping the city of Ferguson rebuild. I am aware there are good citizens organizing groups and coalitions to strengthen our communities and promote peace. I know that what they show on the television is not the whole story. For now, that has to be enough for me, regardless of what I read in my Facebook feed.

People like Jessica Townes and her kindness cards have to be enough for me as well. Jessica posted this on Facebook, and it made its way to me through a friend:

“…for those of you looking for an action piece and don’t know where to start, consider any small act of kindness today. The city is hurting, and moreover, individual lives and struggles continue on. People still have to deal with sick parents, troubled children, job loss, and all of the other trials of daily life. Whether your act is directed at first responders or protestors or a random person on the street, there is little chance the recipient could not use a little extra kindness today.”fergusonkindness

However you feel about #Ferguson, maybe step away from your newsfeeds for awhile to do an act of kindness or two…and do it for someone unlikely, someone outside of your comfort zone.

After all, which of these things is more likely to inspire you to have faith in humanity: a 140 character tweet or a stranger paying for your coffee?

At some point, the snow must melt, and it will be left to all of us to create that sense of calm and peace.

 •••

 A special thanks to my friend John Powell, for teaching me about the spirituality of silence, and to Jessica Townes, for creating the kindness cards and allowing me to share them. You can visit them on their respective blogs, brokenfishblog and On This New Morning…

 

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36 Responses

  1. Reblogged this on Ideas in My Jar and commented:
    Calming is good

  2. Thank you. Love this so much, Kelly. Thanks for the link to http://www.oneferguson.com and Brokenfish!

  3. Reblogged this on brokenfishblog and commented:
    My friend Kelly has written an excellent piece on the value of silence and reflection as we go forward in the aftermath of the Grand Jury decision. Thanks to her for also including links to One Ferguson and my blog. Peace.

  4. This is an excellent perspective on the spirituality of silence. I think I need to know where your friend teaches social justice and sit in on a class. I do believe that only in our silence can we really listen, and that most of us are already forming our next thoughts even when we appear to be silent. Silent on the outside, deafening volume on this inside. I know I’m guilty of this, and have a long way to go in my own practice of deep listening. Thank you for sharing these thoughts, and for forwarding the idea that not all silence is apathy. And thank you for the link to http://www.onthisnewmorning.com.

  5. I think it is important to be silent and not just join in. Think about where you really stand and if it is necessary to share your thought and in which way. Think about if you want to feed into the hate or try to take an edge off. Social media is dangerous in that sense. People feel obliged to share (over-share) and it leads to more hate…

  6. I have tried to be quiet but it can’t be done for me. Though I am often silent and listen but to shut off all inner thoughts and simply be quiet is difficult.

  7. I absolutely love the idea of “the spirituality of silence.” Silence is such an important part of my day–a rarity with two little boys–when I can accomplish so much and think great thoughts. Sending healing thoughts to everyone in Ferguson.

  8. Amazing!!! Thanks for writing what I think a lot of us are feeling!

  9. This is stunning, Kelly, gorgeous, heart-breaking, beautiful! It sums up SO much of what I feel about this tragedy, even if I live thousands of miles away.

  10. I can soo relate. Check my blog some time

  11. I’m a little older than you so, (and I say this sadly), ‘get used to it, there’s lots more coming in your lifetime’.

  12. I think after all the cacophony lately a bit of silence is indeed in order. I’m just as confused as you are by all of this.

    • I think a lot of people are. And I think that’s okay. It really isn’t a cut and dry situation, even if some of the people talking the loudest say it is.

  13. Indescribably beautiful post. The conference I just went to was all about the need for safety before we can connect. It was so powerful that I am still silent about it.

  14. Hi Kelly! I don’t know if you remember me, but I went to SJA and was in your sister’s class. In fact, Beth and I were/are friends 🙂 I want to tell you that I saw your article on HuffPost it was beautifully written and thought-provoking. Silence is something that is under-rated and rarely practiced. This is coming from a person who talks incessantly! A “spirituality of silence” is truly needed. This is so true: “And often, in that silence, we can find there are truths on all sides. Only in recognizing that can we then successfully work toward justice.” Thank you also for sharing those “act of kindness” cards. I may not live in STL anymore, but there is unrest here in Austin as well.

    • Anna, thank you so much for you kind comments. I am so happy this piece has resonated with so many people, especially because I almost didn’t publish it. And I hope the kindness cards serve to inspire as well!

  15. […] (Kelly’s recent post on what happened in Ferguson is my perfect response if only I could have been so eloquent.) […]

  16. […] who put into words what I can’t.  In Silence and Kindness in the Wake of #Ferguson, Kelly Suellentrop was able to verbalize my desire to remain quiet about my opinions on Ferguson. […]

  17. This is exceptional! I’m actually a Missouri resident myself and my husband is in law enforcement. Ferguson hit close to home in our small Northwest Missouri Community. It brought back the fundamentals everyone was trying to establish during segregationq including, Martin Luther King.

    I’m new to blogging! Please check out my page ,http://storyofasunflower.wordpress.com.Thanks so much.

  18. The morning after the grand jury decision came down, I was sitting in a Hampton Inn breakfast room in Amarillo with about 15 other people of various ethnicities. Usually the early mornings are filled with strangers chatting over their coffee and waffles. But that morning, no one talked. Everyone just sat silent, listening to the news channel that was on and reading the free USA Today. The various news networks told us all what to think– and all from various angles. But we didn’t talk about it. No one chatted about it. As a writer, I furiously wrote and wrote and wrote my opinions down, explaining my every thought process. And then, instead of hitting publish, I hit delete. And I think the world is the same today as it would’ve been if I’d have hit the other button. I love the concept of the spirituality of silence. Sometimes introspection is much more beneficial than the alternative.

    • That idea that the world is the same regardless of if you hit the publish button…very interesting. And I probably tend to agree for the most part. Thank you for your comment!

  19. […] #10 Silence and Kindness In the Wake of #Ferguson […]

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