silence is golden: an unexpected lesson from uc davis and the occupy movement

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Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

uc davis pepper spray

silence is golden: an unexpected lesson from uc davis and the occupy movement

uc davis occupy wall street

while in seminary, in a small group, i read richard foster’s classic, celebration of discipline. each week, we’d discuss a chapter with the weekly leader determined by who was struggling most with the particular discipline (each chapter was a particular discipline). the week i chose to lead—which amounted to sharing about my struggles while engaging the text—was the chapter about solitude.

i like to talk. and talk. and then talk a little more.

and not talking is a key tenet within the discipline of solitude. solitude isn’t just about silence, but it’s certainly a close ally. so when you love to turn your music up and play loudly with your kids and talk during the remaining hours of your day, silence can be a difficult discipline to master.

one thing i learned, though, from reading foster’s work is that silence is a mysterious and powerful thing. when you and the world around you refrain from our culture of noise-making, transformation is possible. something stirs within us when nothing is there to distract us.

all of this has been at the front of my mind over the last several days as the events at uc davis have played out. in case you’ve been completely out of the news loop, a group of students associated with the occupy movement were peacefully protesting on campus by sitting in the quad in the middle of campus. police in riot gear showed up and told the protesters to move. because it’s public space, they declined to move.

in one of the most viral examples of citizen journalism, we see one of the most horrifying and disturbing cases of police brutality in quite some time. since a number of videos emerged, someone has taken them and merged them into a single video.

as we all should be, students at uc davis were outraged and demanded answers from the school’s chancellor, linda katehi. when they were barred from a press-only press conference, they refused to leave the outside of the building she was in. after quite some time of refusing to leave the building, katehi finally emerged. when she exited the building, she was met by one of the most stunning protests i’ve ever seen.

here’s what she experienced (and no, you don’t need to adjust your volume):

i’ve watched this quite a few times now and it still gives me the chills.

silence is powerful. much more than shouting. much more than hurling slurs. much more than an angry mob. much more than police brutality.

silence is shaming. it is piercing. it says things that we cannot otherwise say with words.

silence is a discipline. one that’s often difficult to achieve. but when we do—much like the students at uc davis—mysteriously powerful moments occur.

there’s been quite a bit of wisdom and truth from the occupy movement, but possibly none more than this moving act of silence.

alright, it might just be time to follow my own advice and wrap this up. 🙂