The unspoken word
Diversity Council | Thursday, February 22, 2018
Words hold a strange power over us.
The spoken ones openly question and validate our values, our attitudes and our opinions. They’re also ever-changing, with open debates constantly molding it into something current, something new. It is the unspoken word, however, that holds the most sway. It is what causes a woman in the workplace to wear the pantsuit instead of the dress, a minority to change the way she does her hair, an immigrant to change the way he talks, the bystander to look the other way, among many others.
The unspoken word often is set in its ways. There is no specific time when the unspoken word is born, but it is rumored to come to life in a person’s minds when he or she is introduced to the status quo and the norms that exist. While attempts have been made to trace their origins by tracing that of the norms, it did not yield any concrete results due to their varied origins. For example, the origin of the norm that a working mother’s commitment is ambivalent goes back more than a 100 years, when women were first legally allowed equal employment and motherhood was considered to be a woman’s sole occupation.
Then there are norms that are relatively recent — you are supposed to pretend not to notice some things like socioeconomic status and the color of someone’s skin and the implications that holds over their life. Talking about that automatically makes you overly sensitive. As more norms governing different religions, cultures, races and classes are examined, it becomes more than clear that varied time points exist for most of them, and no lead can be found to the origin of the unspoken word. The only commonality through it all is that the unspoken word has been pervasive also in time. Similarly, it is infamously equally opportunistic — no place is immune to it; it exists in homes, in communities, on college campuses, in the workplace and in public spaces.
While the unspoken word is powerful enough to conform people to its will, there is one thing that it is not immune to: being turned into the spoken word. This conversion occurs when it becomes acceptable for the unspoken word to be debated not only by the minority in hushed whispers, but by the majority. Exhibit A: An unspoken word that existed in everyone’s minds and that has been unchanged for almost 230 years — the inexplicable right of Americans to bear arms — is now being openly challenged and questioned by the masses, almost pushing it to the brink of change. While becoming the spoken word is no guarantee of change, it allows for a hope for change — which is rare, yet potent. While the masses are an essential reagent for this change, our personal battles against them are just as vital. So the next time you justify something by “because it has always been this way,” I implore you to not only stop and question why, but also ask others the same. And during your debates, if you listen close enough, you may just hear the sound of thoughts set in stone changing.
Contact Vaishali Nayak at [email protected]
The views and expressions of this column are those of the author and not necessarily of the Observer.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.