Peace vs Silence

The following is a blog post by DCFR member Frank Roby, based on his humanitarian work experience in Africa:

Silence is Not Peace

Why is it we want so much to have peace that we are sometimes willing to accept silence as a substitute? Even though we know that underneath the silence is trouble, trouble we’d rather not talk about.

You know what I mean here. At one level, you have seen it in every conceivable situation in your life. The elevated noise of anger and frustration — at work, at home, in relationships, in child rearing, even in community work. There are always occasions where disagreement causes raised voices and then, often unexpectedly, a sudden silence.

What defines us is whether we are willing to work for true peace or are willing to accept silence instead. That decision defines our character. If we are in a position of leadership, it defines our style as well — one of silence through intimidation or of peace through collaboration and process.

Peace does not mean universal agreement. Peace means mutual respect, and it is the pinnacle of a four-stage process.

Peace begins with liberty — the escape from tyranny. It moves to justice, which begins with revenge but matures into fairness. The process then transitions to freedom — the practice of living a just life. And only then can true peace be realized.

Peace is the byproduct of honing our decisions through the friction of deciding what is just and the healthy tension of protecting the freedoms of opposing thinkers.

People often think Africa, a continent known for so much sorrow through poverty, disease, war, and oppression, does not know peace, that it has settled for silence as a poor substitute. It’s no question that people in opposition of power are silenced in many African countries. But Empower African Children exists to lift up a new generation of young people who learn the value of mutual respect to achieve true peace. We also exist to raise awareness in the United States about the pockets of true peace in Africa. We do this, in addition to our core work in Uganda, because we know that every pocket is proof we can have it in our own lives here. That is important because true peace does not come after everyone’s desires are met, but in spite of the fact that they are not. And in this way, we are all learning from our African students.

In two weeks, I will be traveling back to Uganda with Empower’s first university level study abroad program. With a group of students from SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program, we will examine how education, technology, health, enterprise, and the arts are being used to restore human rights. Our visiting students will work side by side with our Ugandan university students, as well as meeting the country’s leaders — people who know the difference between peace and silence because they live it.

You will love the stories we bring back from this exchange. Until then, look for signs of the difference between peace and silence in those you come across. And care for those whose voices are not heard — for underneath that silence is the hope of peace.

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