THE BLOG
12/03/2014 05:52 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2015

Silence Will Not Save Us

Anyone who's been in a really good conversation or likes to make a habit of them knows that sometimes it's time to talk and sometimes it's time to listen. History can be seen in a similar light. Modern events call on historical events because of their similarity or stark difference and they speak to each other. Some scholars even take a conversational approach to studying history.

In past historical moments, speaking out was somewhat dangerous. Still, the United Nations encourages citizens not to give in to silencing when state secrets are involved because such a practice would leave human rights abuses ignored.

There are many benefits to fully exploring moments of political and societal extremism, such as what America suffered under the Bush administration and continues to suffer to some extent through the Big Oil legacy in Congress. In Germany, which to be fair had much more to reckon with after World War II, dealing with the past has been liberating and has led to much more stable and centrist government. "Like a dedicated analysand, Germany has brought its past to the surface, endlessly discussed it, and accepted it, and this work of many years has freed the patient to lead a successful new life," George Packer writes.

Indeed, one of the cornerstones in therapy is making the implicit explicit, as putting words to problems can help people deal with psychologically difficult events. Wisdom traditions also generally encourage open discussion, even of sensitive issues. In Christianity, the Word was there in the beginning and found truth in expression. For atheists who do not believe in some form of divinity, it would become even more important that humans talk with each other because God is not going to do it for us. A popular Chinese proverb states that, "The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their rights names." Similarly, Tiantai Buddhism inspires followers to "open the provisional to reveal the real." And despite his tragically stupid associations, philosopher Martin Heidegger thought that the act of uncovering played a fundamental role in the structure of time and our existence.

From physicist Lee Smolin, who has his own unique ideas about time, one can come to the conclusion that deciding not to talk about something can establish negative patterns that build on each other. Smolin thinks "that repeated measurements of a particular phenomenon yield the same outcomes not because the phenomenon is subject to a law of nature but simply because the phenomenon has occurred in the past," which he calls the principle of precedence. When big issues are not vetted via conversation, it becomes easier for other issues to remain hidden.

Essentially, Americans concerned about secrecy and political extremism are stuck between knowing that some secrets are best left undiscussed because they protect us and the knowledge of Lord Acton, a pioneering political thinker who also was concerned about secrecy and safety. He wrote, "Every thing secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity."

As we know from the constant calls for more dialogue on race, which is important especially in the wake of the events in Ferguson, even if we choose to have civil conversations with each other about tense topics, it is no guarantee we can solve them instantaneously. But surely what cannot be discussed cannot be solved.