LISTEN (IT’S OK TO HAVE NOTHING TO SAY)

BY ERIC ANDERSSON

Just hours before sitting down to write this, I was walking out of the forum, fretting over all the things I need to get done, when the “Augustana Anonymous” board caught my eye. This board, which sits right at the north end of the Forum, is put up every year as part of Sexual Violence Awareness week, and is an effort to give victims of sexual violence a safe place to share their story, and gives others the opportunity to leave messages of sympathy, encouragement and solidarity.

I don’t know whether the Augustana Anonymous board will still be up by the time this is published, but if it is, I urge you to go read through those stories. They serve as a stark reminder that yes, sexual violence happens, it happens all around us, and people’s lives are torn apart every day by these tragic and senseless events.

However, as much as the victims’ stories need to be heard and honoured, it’s not the victims I want to focus on here.

With any issue like this – be it sexual violence, domestic abuse, racism, sexism, and anything in between – there’s a lot of white noise. Whether it’s people who outright victim-blame, or people who insist the issue “isn’t that bad,” or even simply people who want to help victims but have no idea where to start, discussion over issues like these always results in a lot of people shouting overtop one another, determined to make their voice heard.

Now, look. I myself have never been a victim of sexual violence. I can’t speak to anyone’s experience in that regard. I would have no idea where to begin. To even try and speak from that experience would be nothing less than disrespectful to those who’ve suffered.

But that’s exactly my point.

It’s human nature to want to have something to say. It’s human nature to want to dominate the conversation. We all want to be the smart one, the one with all the answers. But sometimes we’re just out of our depth. Sometimes we just don’t have the experience to say or do anything of real value.

But that’s OK. It’s perfectly OK to have nothing to say. It’s perfectly fine to just listen; in fact, I’d say that’s preferable to muddying up the conversation with white noise.

Once again, I urge anyone reading this to go and read the stories shared on the Augustana Anonymous board. I also encourage those of you who read to add a message of solidarity. Let these people know they’re not alone. Let these people know we stand with them. But even more than that, I encourage those who read this who haven’t been a victim to approach the conversation with listening ears.

And from there, one can hope, we can learn the most effective ways to fight these abusive behaviours, and the attitudes that lead to them.

(Originally published November 6, 2019)

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