We live within busy systems: spaces filled with static, discourse, and noise. Through this fog we seek meaning: validation of views, membership and belonging, knowledge and clarity. But not all voices are equal, and not all voices are equally heard. We sometimes focus on how we can get people to speak out, to find their voice, but that term may be a misnomer: many people already have a voice, but it is silenced.
Within both formal, and social, spaces, voices can be silenced for many reasons, by many different forces. There can be a fear of speaking out, or an experience of speaking out and being drowned out by hostile echoes. We can lack the spaces to speak openly within, or have fear or consequence from how a story lands.
Forces such as these can lead us to silence ourselves: to take our voices into smaller, more granular, private spaces. Spaces owned by our own tribes and local communities. Safer spaces.
I spoke to someone yesterday who described his membership of a formal Community at work, but then immediately described a core group (his tribe), who he ‘knew’, and with whom he had a materially different relationship. These tribal units, held in reputation, empathy, and belonging, are often the spaces where our voices are most easily freed, but with the caveat that it may be because they welcome conformity, amplify existing knowledge, and validate their own opinions.
There are good, clear reasons why people are silent in noisy spaces, especially in situations where they are not simply amplifying an existing story: amplification is often a feature of aggregation, the rapid coalescing of views and narratives around a central story, and then the mechanisms by which that new narrative spreads. Without that initial aggregation, it’s hard to achieve amplification, and until you speak out, you do not know if views will aggregate around yours. So you risk exposure and isolation, both of which act as fearful social forces.
Perhaps when we consider the silent voices, we should distinguish between those that are drowned out, and those that simply never shout out at all. Self censured, not silenced. And we should consider those traits of Social Leaders that create the spaces, Social Capital, and support, for these voices to be heard.