Saturday, April 27, 2013

Silencing Techniques

Have you ever had an entire conversation that was not about the thing you wanted to talk about, but about why you needed to stop talking about it?

It's called silencing.

Silencing is when rather than addressing the substance of whatever it is being talked about, someone tries to dismiss, trivialize or derail the conversation, so that the topic, whatever it is, stops getting discussed.  The person who started the conversation ends up focusing not on the issue at hand, but on defending the validity either of the topic or of his or her own voice.  Here are some categories of silencing, with specific examples from things that have been said to me or that I've heard said to others.

Suggesting you're being frivolous or the issue is not important.

"How can you waste your time talking about this when there are so many more important problems in the world?

"Shouldn't you be: a) spreading the gospel; b: helping the poor; c) taking care of your children instead of focusing on these issues?"

"The Bible is a toxic book riddled with errors and contradictions.  Discussing what one of its verses means is a waste of time."

Questioning your motives.

"You're only talking about this because you want personal power/you're overly ambitious."  (for an example, see Are Women Seeking Ministry "Demanding Rights"?)

"The reason you're saying all this is that in your heart you don't want to obey God."

"You're just trying to find a way out of following the Bible."

"What it comes down to is that you resent your God-given role as a woman."

"Deep in your heart you know there's no God; that's why you're arguing so much about it."

"Othering" you.  ("Othering" is defined as "a way of defining and securing one’s own positive identity through the stigmatization of an 'other.'" In other words, "you're not one of us, so we don't have to listen to you.")

"You're not really an evangelical/you don't believe the Bible is inerrant [therefore, we can't trust anything you say]."

"You're one of those feminists, aren't you?"

"That's a bleeding-heart liberal response."

"That's a knee-jerk conservative response."

"What can you expect from a Christian?"

"This is all part of the homosexual agenda."

"No one who takes a different view on this position could really be saved."

Assuming you just don't understand, or you would agree with them.

"Sorry, sister, but you're deceived."

"Let me explain again why you're wrong, and maybe you'll get it this time."

"Try to consider this rationally."

"As any reasonable person could see. . . "

"Gaslighting" you.  (The term "gaslighting" comes from the 1944 movie Gaslight, in which a young wife is manipulated by her husband into believing she is going insane.  It now means any attempt by one person to make another doubt his or her perception of reality by "telling the other that there is something wrong with the way she sees the world or there's something wrong with who she is.")

"You're overreacting/too sensitive."

"You're getting emotional about this."

"I can see that you're bitter."

"You've clearly been a victim of abuse, so you can't look at this issue objectively."

"Someone in your past misused authority in a way that hurt you, and that's why you don't like hearing what I'm telling you."

Telling you to "lighten up" or "let it be."

"You're being strident."

"Why can't you just enjoy this sermon/movie/song for what it is?  Why do you have to analyze it?"

"You're the one trying to silence us through insisting we be 'politically correct.'"

"Can't you take a joke?"

Privileging their position/appealing to authority.

"The Bible is very clear on this."

 "The church has believed as I believe for 2000 years."

"But that's never happened to me."

"Most Christian women believe as I do and are happy."

"I'm a Greek scholar, and I know what I'm talking about."

Telling you to ignore the problem.

"It was a good sermon.  If anything that was said bothers you, just forget that part."

"Don't be so negative. Do you always have to focus on that?"

"Just eat the meat and spit out the bones."

Telling you that the upset you're causing is more important than the problem you're pointing out.

"You're being divisive."

"Don't rock the boat/make waves."

"Stop making a fuss."

"Christians should be focusing on what unifies us, not on our differences."

Telling you that you talk too much about the issue.

"This is getting boring. Enough already."

"Stop beating a dead horse."

"Do you have to bring this up again?"


Anything sound familiar?

I'm pretty sure that almost everyone has had someone attempt to silence them, about something or other, at some time or other.  But the point is that as soon as you start arguing with a silencer about whether or not you should say something, you've been effectively stopped from actually saying it.

I think we all need to learn to recognize these techniques, so that when someone attempts to silence us, we can simply point it out and then get back to the substance of the issue.  And if we're responsible for attempting to silence someone else, we need to see that we're doing it and back off.

Issues need to be addressed on their own merits.  Trying to shut someone up ultimately doesn't solve anything, and it's actually just another weapon in the arsenal of spiritual or verbal abuse.

The only words that need to stop are the silencing ones.

UPDATE:  Dianna Anderson over at Faith and Feminism has written an amazing piece called  White Lady Feminism, Christian Blogging and the Worst of Both Possible Worlds, where she provides an excellent example of how "Don't rock the boat" and "Let's only focus on the good things" are used to silence dissenters within a movement-- with a corollary of "We have to present a united front, so quit bashing your brothers!" which really should be considered as a silencing technique in and of itself.


--------------------------

Note: Saying "that's racist" or "that's sexist" or "that's homophobic" are not silencing techniques, because they do in fact address the conversation/topic of discussion, when the person saying this can point out how the prior remark is racist, etc.  However, "You're a racist/sexist/homophobe" is a silencing technique because it's about the person making the remark rather than the remark itself.

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh. My. Word. I used to have a pastor who would ALWAYS try to get to the "root issue" behind why you were saying XY and Z. Often, it turned into a scrutiny of motives rather than discussing the actual and legitimate concerns.

That was one of the reasons we left that church. It just got too weird.

MommyMessenger said...

I wish I could say I had a pastor who did this... it would be better than admitting that I have a husband who does this. The question, now that I know I'm being silenced, is how do I maintain composure and keep from resorting to raising the volume, when I detect being silenced? It's like I'm between a rock and a hard place. In that awkward learning curve where you exchange one extreme for another, it just seems to add to the other person's arsenal when they see you (seem to) lose control. Maintaining calm when one silencing technique is used after another after another after another in the same conversation can, depending on the personality, drain or infuriate. And I'm talking about these same theological issues. Can a marriage be reconciled with this occuring? BTW, I love your blog. Love, love, love it!

Lisa notes... said...

I recognize many of these, but wouldn't have thought to group them together as silencing techniques. That's exactly what they are though. Thanks for your honesty here and for calling us to stop doing this to each other and to find ways to work through it when it's done to us.

Cynthia said...

Dear Mommy Messenger,

Yes, a marriage can be reconciled. I have seen and am seeing God do it in my marriage. I have learned that I don't have to defend or prove a point. Instead, I can let the Holy Spirit be his teacher, just as the Spirit has taught me. God is faithful. You can't continue the same old dance if one of you stops moving. I am learning to stop the dance and not react as I would have in the past. It is amazing to see how God is speaking to my husband as I have quieted down and let Him take over. It all boils down to my trust in God...how much do I trust Him to take care of me?

Blessings to you...



Kristen said...

Anonymous, I sure get what you're saying about it getting "weird" at a church! Lisa, thanks for your kind words!

MommyMessenger, I think first of all it would be important to find out whether he's even aware he's using silencing techniques on you. If I were in your position I might talk to him about what silencing is, and how it's used, and see if he's open to that discussion-- and if he tries to silence you during that, simply to say, "that itself is a silencing technique. Let's not make this about me, but about what I'm telling you." And if you feel yourself losing your cool, say, "this is not a productive conversation. We can talk again when you're ready to hear me." And just walk away. I think whether a marriage in which this occurs can be reconciled, depends mostly on the person doing the silencing. Perhaps some of my other posts (see my topic index tab at the top of the blog) will be helpful to you as well.

Kristen said...

PS. Cynthia, we seem to have posted at the same time. I think what you shared about trusting God and not dancing the same dance was very helpful as well; thanks!

Anthony Rose said...

I'd like to say two things.
1. I have heard a lot of these comments AFTER discussion has failed and we have been unable to come to any agreement. And because all has been said already, many of these comments cannot be being used as silencing techniques. Rather I would say that in those case they are cries of frustration and/or appeals to re-think one's position more deeply, or to check one's motives, and to pursue the topic further oneself.
2. To call a comment some epithet, such as racist or homophobic, is very definitely a silencing technique because it moves the discussion away from the validity of the comment to the motives and feelings behind the comment. First deal with the truth or falsehoods in the comment, then discuss the motivation as a separate topic.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

I really wanted to humorously combine all these techniques into one response, but I'm too lazy. ;-)

This is a really good post and I've had many of them used on me over the years, and hopefully haven't used any myself.

Dylan Morrison Author said...

Great wee article.

I've experienced them all and probably used them all in my religious junkie days.

The little ego inside us is a deviously clever little beastie!

:) Dylan

Hammer said...

Very well done! As an ex high control group member, I relate to it personally.

Don D said...

Kristen, again...or maybe I should just say "As usual" you have written something really valuable. I struggle with the one that goes "But the Bible clearly says..." because that is where I want to start debating...in other words, I want to use this but I do not see it as being a silencing technique. If you (my reader) disagree, then I welcome your alternative understanding so that I can recognize my error, or reinforce or clarify my own argument. And at the same time, I really do see what you mean. Do I want to discuss the issue that was presented or not? Now, in these "hot" theologically oriented issues, it seems to me that we have to share what we believe is "clearly" taught. Example, I am a gender egalitarian and made that switch about 38 years ago or so. You, Kristen, gave me a brilliant insight into 1 Tim. 2/12 a few weeks ago, and (was it you again?) someone made another brilliant analysis of 1 Cor. 14/34 ff. about a week ago. So, if I now say hear someone use those passages with the intro "But the Bible clearly says...", I have an answer that lines up with my grammatical-historical interpretive grid, which is still the gold standard of interpretation for me. So, when I use that same phrase in other contexts, I hope that the "other" will reply in kind, i.e., with Biblically, historically, grammatically based arguments.
I guess my question to you then is this: Does the use of all of these phrases ALWAYS mean one is being silenced? I think not. Comments? (please)

Kristen said...

Anthony, you may be right-- I do think saying "that's racist" or "that's sexist" can be a silencing technique. But I also think it's possible to be unintentionally racist, sexist, etc. However, I think it would be better to say, "do you realize that that sounds sexist, because X?"

Kristen said...

Don, I agree that "the Bible is clear" isn't always a silencing technique. I do think there are some places where the Bible really is pretty clear, even reading with just a plain-English understanding. Here's a post on the subject: The Bible and Plain Sense Reading.

But there are many people who think the grammatical-historical interpretive grid is just an excuse to "weasel out" of doing what the Bible "clearly" says to do-- and I'm sure you'll agree that starting with different premises (such as the validity of a particular interpretive grid/hermeneutic) can yield very different results. You then can end up with two people shouting at each other about how the Bible is "clear" in saying exactly opposite things-- and wondering what's wrong with the other person who won't agree.

But the way I see "the Bible is clear" used as a silencing technique is when it's being used to render dissent invalid-- because, of course, the speaker knows exactly what the Bible says and means on the topic, end of discussion. In any event, I think in most cases it's much better to say "this particular text seems clear to me" than "the [entire] Bible is clear on this subject [implying, "so get back in line and just believe it"]."

Kristen said...

P.S. Everyone's kind words are deeply appreciated!

The Dude said...

Most of these have been used by the White House when asked about Benghazi.

reynard61 said...

I don't even go to church and I *still* hear this kind of thing -- primarily in politics. All you have to do is change a few words and modify the topics.

Also, you might want to add this: "Telling you that the subject has already been decided/is a fait accompli and that your input isn't needed/wanted." This can range from a church building a gym without parishioner/member input to a town council telling it's citizens that an unwanted store being built is a "done deal" and that the meeting to inform the town about it is just a formality.

reynard61 said...

The Dude said...

"Most of these have been used by the White House when asked about Bengazi."

[citation needed]

Kristen said...

Reynard, thanks for your comments. You make a good point about how projects can get pushed through without allowing for input, and then protests after the fact are moot because it's already a done deal. However, I'm not sure that preventing/avoiding input through secrecy is technically the same thing as a "silencing technique." It's definitely an underhanded tactic, though.

Kamilla said...

Hi Kristen,

I hope you won't mind if I toss two things into the mix,

First, when I was a feminist, I never experienced any silencing. In fact, I was welcomed in many patriarchal/Complementarians hangouts on the web. I had good discussions with pastors over those years and though we disagreed, my questions and pushback were never silenced.

Second, I have more recently, experienced a significant uptick in attempts to silence me. This occurs when others jump into an exchange telling me to "lay off" their friend, even though this friend continues in conversation with me. The last time this happened, I also received an anonymous nastygram from the interfering friend. Perhaps I should have printed it out and experimented with some origami?

This also occurs quite frequently in exchanges with religious feminists/progressives when discussing abortion. I've lost track of the times I've been told to shut up about abortion when discussing justice. They don't wish to recognize the profound injustice of abortion. But that's one thing I will never be silenced on because the right to life is foundational to all other rights.

Kamilla

Retha said...

Hi Kamilla
I won't silence you, but actually give you a reason to speak.
You have previously also given the impression elsewhere that comps/ patriarchy people gave you a welcoming opportunity to speak your mind when you were a feminist. Now, things on the Internet stay there for years and years.
Can you give me a link or 2 of you talking feminism on the Internet, and it being welcomed on comp/patriarchy sites? Not a case just of you being welcomed, because the patriarchal camp would welcome you now. But you being a feminist there - and being treated in a welcoming manner while being a feminist. If I actually see it my opinion of at least some comp/ patri people may improve, as I tend to experience the opposite, and never what you claim.

Or can you give a list of comp/patri people who will treat me respectfully if I post "feminism" ideas there? (I may actually experient - try to post on your site list and see how respectful they are.)

Retha said...

may actually experient = may actually experiment
Sorry!

Kamilla said...

Retha,

Not everything stays around forever. CBMW's site has gone through several revisions and they haven't had a discussion list for quite some time. I doubt the new generation running the joint these days has maintained any of that ;-). Last I checked, they hadn't even bothered to re-link some of the books that had been available as free PDFs so I doubt they've maintained any defunct discussion list files/data.

That was my primary site of engagement. I guess I was wrong to say "on the web" because most of it was email group based and those aren't publicly available at all.


I'd recommend you take a look at Baylyblog and Alastair's Adversaria. I won't post links directly because they tend to get caught in spam filters but both should be easily discoverable. Alastair is one of the kindest, most irenic guys I've ever run across.

Retha said...

If you call the Bayly blog a place where patriarchy people are friendly towards feminist ideas, I have a good reason to mistrust either your honesty or your judgment.

Kamilla said...

Retha,

You didn't ask for blogs that "are friendly towards feminist ideas". You don't need me for a list of those places. You already participate in several of them.

Retha said...

Okay, to use exact words, I did not ask for blogs that "are friendly towards feminist ideas”, but for "a list of comp/patri people who will treat me respectfully if I post "feminism" ideas there."

I thus replace my previous comment with: "If you call the Bayly blog a place where patriarchy people will treat me respectfully if I post "feminism" ideas, I have a good reason to mistrust either your honesty or your judgment."

(You were arguing words and not the main point, which is also probably akin to a silencing technique.)

Kamilla said...

Well, no, words *are* the main point. People deserve respect. Ideas, not so much. That's the difference between the two.

The problem, for some, is that they believe respect for persons necessarily entails respect for their ideas.

It is clear you aren't willing to distinguish between the two so I'll leave you with a question: How respectful is it if someone allows you to drink poison, even knocking the glass out of your hand, simply because you have tried to convince them it is pure mountain spring water?

Kristen said...

Part of respect for people is not silencing their words. That's what the blog post is all about.

Kamilla said...

Kristen,

When you twist virtually every way in which someone can criticize or disagree with someone into "silencing their words" it is impossible to have a sensible conversation. And, quite frankly, the only place I see genuine silencing going on is in feminist and progressive circles.

Parts of the last exchange I had on ECA were removed from public view after unproved a certain forum leader had repeatedly lied about participating in certain discussions.

Your friend Rachel Evans has silenced me directly and permanently. Again this was for telling an uncomfortable truth. And I far from the only one. When I tweeted about it, I heard from no fewer than six others who had been silenced by her. One blog put me on "warning" after exactly one comment when I corrected them for getting some publicly verifiable facts quite wrong.

In fact, I have been silenced by more feminists than I can remember. And please, you have made this about words so don't excuse those actions by talking about my manner.

But then, if not silencing words were really your concern, you wouldn't have comments on moderation.

Kristen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristen said...

Kamilla, I'm not "twisting" anything. Any form of "I think your argument A is wrong because B" is not a silencing technique. But all forms of "You should not be writing/speaking because C" or "This is about you, not your argument" or "this is an invalid discussion because we should be talking about D instead" are silencing techniques. It really isn't that hard to tell the difference.

What Rachel Held Evans or anyone else has done is beside the point. I agree with you that anyone, no matter what their position, is capable of using(and probably has used) used a silencing technique rather than address the issues. Including myself-- and we all need to be aware of it and try to refrain from doing it.

If you will notice, my post mentions silencing techniques from many different positions-- that atheists do it to Christians and Christians to atheists, for example.

As for comments being on moderation, the actual fact is that only posts that are older than two weeks are on moderation. This is so that I can keep track of conversations that arise after a topic has already effectively been moved on from. Moderation is off on all recent topics. So your veiled accusation that I'm not really interested in silencing words, but only in silencing your position's words, really isn't accurate.

Kamilla said...

It's not an accusation, veiled or otherwise. It is a forthright statement: moderation is a form of silencing.

And yes, I realise it can occur in any forum regardless of the ideology. My point is simply this, let me spell it out clearly:

Among my travels around the interwebs, the only people I see worrying about being silenced are the very people most likely to silence others. More specifically, while I do commend you for not silencing me here, even though I have been deliberately provocative, those who hold views similar to yours with regard to anthropology (using a technical term here to avoid any potential trigger words), are the most likely to both silence and say they have been silenced.

Kristen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristen said...

Kamilla, I don't see how moderation is a form of silencing when you have been moderated but not silenced-- as you yourself have admitted above.

I would put it this way-- Moderation is a form of control exercised by a blog owner over her blog. As such, it can be used for silencing, but it is not itself a form of silencing. I do exercise control over my blog for purposes of having civil and respectful discourse. This is also the reason for my rule set forth on the blog:

Please keep comments on-topic and avoid name-calling, personal attacks, or speculations on the character or motives of the blog writer or other commentors.

I freely admit that if someone breaks a rule here, I will silence them after one warning. This is because these rules are specifically set up to keep one commentor from trying to silence another. Commenters are not permitted to use their freedom to curtail the freedom of others.

In my own travels around the interwebs, it appears to me that the people worrying about being silenced are the ones who have been silenced. Since that includes almost everyone who has an online disagreement with someone else-- and since attempting to silence others is a fairly common technique in human conversation-- I think most people are concerned about being silenced. This, I think, is why it turns out that this particular post of mine is far and away my most widely and frequently read post.

I myself have been silenced quite a few times on blogs holding views on anthropology similar to yours. Therefore I have to state that my experience differs from yours.

Kamilla said...

Kristen,

You'll forgive me for doubting that your being silenced on any of those blogs you claim to have been silenced on had to do with anything other than the sort of rule-breaking you say will result in people being silenced here.

Now I so realize I am skirting your rules here and appreciate your forbearance, so I will make my point one last time: those who are seen to worry the most about being silenced are themselves the most likely to silence others (rules notwithstanding).

To which I'll add a second point because of your response. We all have rules. On my own website, all comments are currently moderated because I haven't installed a spam filter. Some blogs require registration, some require real name and yet others don't allow commenting at all. But you, I and everyone else out there has rules. I wold never consider that silencing, but since you are operating with a border definition of that term, you may.

Casting such a broad definition of silencing has the effect of stifling lively debate.

And, with that I will leave you although, as I always endeavour to do, I believe I have left my email address available if you follow the link and anyone here is free to contact me. Although, I will let anyone who wishes to do so that I make no promises about keeping such correspondence private. That is my own rule to pre-empt scurrilous gossip.

Kristen said...

Ahh, but I'm not looking for "lively debate." I'm looking for "civil discourse." That's the tone I want on my blog. As for my "broad definition" of silencing, I have listed the things that I have found, in my experience, generally operate to end civil discourse by attempting to making one person or their position unassailable-- at the expense of someone else.

I'm not one who enjoys Internet free-for-alls, which is what in my experience "lively debate" usually means. If you consider that controlling, so be it. I want my own blog to be the kind of space I myself would enjoy commenting on.

My readers, of course, are free to disagree on what they consider to be silencing techniques.

But with regard to your accusation that I have been silenced on other people's blogs because I go onto those blogs and make personal attacks or speculations on the character and motives of other commentors-- you yourself have interacted with me on other blogs and have absolutely no basis on which to make such a statement.

Kristen said...

PS. No, I don't consider having rules to be "silencing." However, I have been accused by those who come to my blog and break the rules, that I am silencing them by my enforcement of them.

Kristen said...

Kamilla has informed me that she did not intend to say that I have gone onto other people's blogs and made personal attacks, etc. She has requested that her comment remain private, but apparently she was only referring to rule-breaking on other blogs in general, not the specific rule-breaking I thought she was referring to. I believe this was simply a miscommunication, not caused by malice on either part. When I posted my rule against "name-calling, personal attacks, or speculations on the character or motives of the blog writer or other commentors," and she responded by saying, "You'll forgive me for doubting that your being silenced on any of those blogs you claim to have been silenced on had to do with anything other than the sort of rule-breaking you say will result in people being silenced here," it did seem to me like "the sort of rule-breaking you say will result in people being silenced here" meant "name-calling, personal attacks, or speculations on the character or motives of the blog writer or other commentors" -- which was the sort of rule-breaking I believed I had just been talking about.

I misunderstood her meaning, and I apologize for accusing her of accusing me. This sort of thing can happen when people on opposing sides of an issue attempt to communicate in writing rather than in person. If that doesn't clear the air, I welcome Kamilla to make another post here to further clarify or seek clarification.

I still do not believe I have been silenced on any blog for breaking their rules of any kind; but I have no wish to escalate conflict on this issue.

pnissila said...

When I perceive someone trying to silence me, this is usually my first red flag that they just don't want to hear the content of what I'm trying to say. They'd rather get me into the weeds of an argument over the form of the discussion or interaction. And of course silencing techniques are classic methods of trying to control someone else.

To the woman who mentioned her husband uses these techniques, I recommend reading up on verbally abusive relationships. Patricia Evans has several good books on this subject ("The Verbally Abusive Relationship" is perhaps her most well-known) but there are many others and many good web sites. In the case of abuse, it's not even about content or form, but about a personality disorder that is more of an over-arching theme. The topic may be religion, politics, what's for dinner,what the abuser thinks his partner should wear or think or really, anything. (I use the pronoun "he" both as an editorial "he" and because statistically, more men are abusive in this manner than women. The statistics are easily accessed.) It doesn't matter much. What matters to the verbal abuser is that he is in control of the other and silencing is just one of the techniques used to try to maintain the control.

There are ways to address this (walking away or identifying that this is a silencing technique or actually an abusive technique to the abuser, are two mentioned here), but many have left such relationships because when the dynamic of abuse is the cause and it is not addressed by the abuser it may escalate to physical abuse.

Take care,
Blessings,
Phyllis

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that I have interacted with Kristen in other forums and she is one of the most diplomatic people I have ever had the pleasure to engage with. She has never, in my experienced, silenced anyone because she disagrees with content- only moderated to keep profanity and name-calling in check. A discussion threat with Kristen on it has,in my experience, always been a place where people are welcome, discussions flow, differences of opinion are addressed respectfully. The underlying vibe is always respect.

I also wanted to add that I love the topic of this blog post. I think it's very insightful- and if you have ever had the misfortune of interacting with people who try to silence you- this is spot on. With someone who disagrees, you can still discuss issues. Then, you are engaging in a debate. With someone who silences you- it's impossible to discuss anything. The topic changes according to their whim- and everything they say is aimed at getting you to disengage. It's a very very clear difference.

Kristen said...

Wow, thanks!