JUST KEEP QUIET!
“When people go years—generations—without being heard, they erupt. Think about that in your own life. Think about how you have felt when you haven’t been heard or when you have felt invisible. When every time you have tried to speak your truth, you have been told either it isn’t so or “this isn’t the right place or the right time.” Or maybe you were told just to keep quiet. That feeling of not being heard is exhausting. It’s enraging. It’s too much.”
– Maria Shriver
The one thing no human being can say is that they have always been heard. Growing up, especially in Africa, you will definitely hear the phrase over and over, “shut up”! Or “be quiet!” or “shut your mouth!” Having lived both on this continent and outside, I have seen how people go unheard. Being a woman, I have seen how women go unheard. Being a young person a long time ago, I also went unheard. There seems to be two types of people in the world, those who think it is their right to tell others what to do and what to think, and those who must shut up and be told what to do and what to think. And somehow, that system has been working well; the talkers have been allowed to talk and the listeners have listened and kept their mouths shut.
I have also noticed that this is true for all nations; anywhere in the world you go, some people do all the talking and some do all the listening. This is understandable for military rule, for depots, for autocrats, for monarchies; those systems of government have no inclination to listen to the people, they talk, the people are meant to listen and obey. These days, even in so-called democracies, governments for the people, of the people and by the people, no one listens to the people. The people are required to be quiet and just listen… and yes, pay their taxes and obey.
Imagine the pain of not being heard, the humiliation of being discountenanced, the shame of forced silence, the dehumanization of being ignored, not for a day or a month or a year, but sometimes for a life time, for many life times. Imagine how that silence starts to ferment and grow, how it gradually poisons the system, how it insidiously takes over and builds to breaking point until it can no longer be kept inside. The world has had many instances where people can no longer just keep quiet. History has recorded times without number on how previously quiet people became violently noisy, insisting on being heard. Sadly, when this happens, it is difficult to establish and maintain control; the previously bottled up silence becomes a volcano that has blown its cap and everything in its path is destroyed.
The questions therefore are many; but the one I always ask is simple: why do we not learn from the past? For if we know that there is nothing new under the sun, why do we need to repeat the same mistakes that take us down the same road every time? Do we not realize that the outcome will be same? For if we were wise, we would learn from history, which is replete with examples of the ‘explosion of silence’. The French Revolution is one such example. After centuries of a well established monarchy, the eruption of the silent starving took down the upper echelons of society, gruesomely beheading them publicly and plunging France into years of anarchy and confusion until the ‘Little Emperor’, Napoleon Bonaparte sweeps in with more violence and sets things back on an uneasy keel.
We could also look at the Russian Revolution which swept Tsar Nicholas out of power and ushered in the tenuous years of communism, from which Russia is still trying to fashion out its brand of autocratic democracy. In the same vein, we can look at the Chinese experience which ended centuries of dynastic power and brought in the Communist Party which is still, in a sense, an undemocratic one party system where people still have to keep quiet.
Back home in Nigeria, we gained Independence from the Colonial Britain and in sixty years of Independence have shown less aptitude to govern our affairs than those we replaced. Throughout history, one conqueror replaces another, no matter what they choose to call themselves. In the final analysis, integrity, ability, diligence, benevolence and selflessness are always lacking. The talkers talk, the listeners listen and are silent until the silence becomes too painful. It is time for humankind to change; we have evolved in other ways, except in the most important, being humane.