Gross: Staying silent is just as powerful a freedom as that of speech

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(Graphic Illustration by Chloe Leline | The Collegian)

Dillon Gross, Collegian Columnist

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Words are powerful; they always have been. Revolutionary texts like Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” were integral to the founding of the United States.

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In a day of prevalent social movements and political events, it is expected that everyone has an opinion on everything. Of course, differing opinions are good and beneficial for democracy. With anyone able to get a Twitter account and say whatever they want, the internet is constantly flooded with more words than anyone could ever read. The constant expectation for people to speak up about everything, however, is harmful. 

Forcing people to speak on issues when they are unwilling can be detrimental in the same way that silencing people is. Just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean you need to share it at all times. It’s easy to get swept into one social cause after another, but sometimes it’s beneficial to not say anything at all. Just because you’re silent does not mean you’re against the cause.

It can be better to be quiet and genuinely listen to marginalized voices than say something purely out of social obligation. Posting an informational graphic on Instagram does very little for followers who are probably too busy to actually read and absorb it. It’s performative activism; it does more for the person who’s posting it than anyone else.

Staying silent, listening and amplifying the voices driving a social movement are more important than jumping on the bandwagon just to prove to everyone that you care. The recent emphasis on sharing pronouns is another example of how forcing someone to speak can be harmful.

“Why should children who have been disappointed and hurt by the institutions of America be expected to stand up every day and pledge their loyalty to this country?”

There are lots of reasons why cisgender people sharing their pronouns can be beneficial for the LGBTQ+ community, but forcing someone to share their pronouns can be detrimental.

Sometimes people aren’t out or open about their preferred pronouns. Sometimes they just don’t know. Forcing them to share can prematurely shove them out of the closet or make them share pronouns they know do not feel correct to avoid the aforementioned situation. 

Colorado State University, luckily, is not guilty of this. There is often an encouragement to share pronouns but not a requirement. Any student who doesn’t want to tell the class their preferred pronouns is free to not answer that question and move on.

Utilizing the American freedom to speak is good, but sometimes the absence of words can say even more. The Pledge of Allegiance is an example of when silence can say infinitely more than words do.

From a very young age, American children are taught the Pledge of Allegiance, a near-daily school ritual of standing up, putting your right hand over your heart and pledging allegiance to the United States of America. 

As young children, we think nothing of it. It’s just another part of the daily routine, like recess and circle time. But as we grow into young adults, forming minds and opinions of our own, pledging allegiance may not be something we want to do. 

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Take Generation Z, the generation to which many college-aged students belong. As children growing up in America, we watched the stock market collapse, the continuation of the longest American war and gun violence in the very schools in which we say the Pledge of Allegiance. 

“Freedom of speech is the freedom to choose what to say and when to say it — it comes with the responsibility of knowing when silence can be even more powerful.”

In the state of Colorado, public schools cannot require any students or faculty to recite the pledge. However, reciting it is still the expectation and seen as normal.

Why should children who have been disappointed and hurt by the institutions of America be expected to stand up every day and pledge their loyalty to this country? 

The freedom to say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning comes with the freedom to sit silently through it. Some Americans love it and others don’t. It comes down to how you use your words and if you choose to use them at all.

Freedom is inherently the ability to choose. Freedom of speech is the freedom to choose what to say and when to say it — it comes with the responsibility of knowing when silence can be even more powerful.

Reach Dillon Gross at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @dillongrosss.