Septimus shrugged and said nothing, the ways of Camp Heap rubbing off on him. He was learning from his brothers that you didn’t have to explain yourself if you didn’t want to—and that sometimes, with a witch, it was better not to.
The deepest silences always had a sense of completeness about them, she thought. Nothing could be quieter than utter stillness, except when there was menace.
The Dragon Librarian (Scrolls of Fire Book 1) by Marc Secchia
I could have shouted out right along with those wolves. I could have let a warm howl turn my breath into a ghost in those cold winter woods. But I didn’t. I sat there, quiet.
–Tell the Wolves I’m Home
Nonetheless, their ambivalence about recognizing privilege suggests a deep tension at the heart of the idea of American dream. While pursuing wealth is unequivocally desirable, having wealth is not simple and straightforward. Our ideas about egalitarianism make even the beneficiaries of inequality uncomfortable with it. And it is hard to know what they, as individuals, can do to change things.
In response to these tensions, silence allows for a kind of “see no evil, hear no evil” stance. By not mentioning money, my interviewees follow a seemingly neutral social norm that frowns on such talk. But this norm is one of the ways in which privileged people can obscure both their advantages and their conflicts about these advantages.
I stared out over the land in a demolished rapture, too tired to even rise and walk to my tent, watching the sky darken. Above me, the moon rose bright, and below me, far in the distance, the lights in the towns of Inyokern and Ridgecrest twinkled on. The silence was tremendous. The absence felt like a weight. This is what I came for, I thought. This is what I got.
–Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
- Pacific Crest Trail: Website and Twitter
Keeping silent about social class, a norm that goes far beyond the affluent, can make Americans feel that class doesn’t, or shouldn’t, matter. And judging wealthy people on the basis of their individual behaviors — do they work hard enough, do they consume reasonably enough, do they give back enough — distracts us from other kinds of questions about the morality of vastly unequal distributions of wealth.
…Such moves help wealthy people manage their discomfort with inequality, which in turn makes that inequality impossible to talk honestly about — or to change.
“…when you live on the fringes of society with no resources, you have no voice and your complaints are easily ignored.“
-Etched in Sand
“We didn’t say anything for the next four hours. Time passed like time should pass—rich and quiet and all your own.”
–Animal, Mineral, Radical: Essays on Wildlife, Family, and Food
“But the poor stick had a problem – he couldn’t speak. So he couldn’t share his thoughts with any other forest creatures…who would believe a stick, anyway?”
“To his amazement, he discovered that he could draw lines to look like things.”
“He drew faster and faster. Finally he stopped. The dust cleared…and there was the most magnificent sight the forest had ever seen.”
–The Clever Stick by John Lechner