There are times during the year when I rediscover the virtues of silence. The moments when I feel like I can no longer hear the roar of public opinion, the moments when it seems to me that there is too much noise.
February is one of those times. As I suffer from seasonal depression and winter weighs on me, I try to look on the bright side of life, to find the hidden beauty and bring a little light into my days. I cross-country ski and I relax. On social networks, I only post photos of happy moments or quotes from my favorite writers. I observe the general turmoil with a kind of credibility, how people so easily pass over an issue that has suddenly become a matter of life and death, can forget everything immediately and move on to something new the next day. Corruption.
In the early 2010s, Stephen Hessel, a figurehead of anti-globalization movements, called for this popular mobilization: Be angry! With his little pamphlet, Hessel wanted to stir up, I don’t care, mobilize a society he considered apathetic. I wonder what Hessel — who died in 2013 — would have thought of the current state of discourse after some time on Twitter or Facebook. I wonder what he would have to say about this perpetual festival of anger, the spectacle of all these people, skin-deep and tough, fighting it out, hurling insults and hate (“Racist!”, “Woke up!”) and loudly pointing out their virtue and destroying other people’s lives. All trolls spend their lives struggling to exist. I have a feeling that old Hazel would judge that he was misunderstood, and that it wasn’t the anger he had in mind.
Because the problem with the anger we express every day is that it rarely moves us to action. Too often, we are locked into the logic of resistance, where it is less a question of affirming and building than of saying “no.”
This is also the secret of the success of social networks: they are places of pure release, where anger does not lead to action, but to reaction. To react rather than to act is to think about oneself and the world against the other’s thinking or project, against him. This approach is more common than you might think, among ordinary citizens and some opinionated professionals who have built their lives around this single purpose, which is surprisingly profitable.
Take the famous story of the appointment of Amira Elkhawabi as “Canada’s special representative in charge of combating Islamophobia,” according to the Trudeau government, which already seems to be more or less forgotten now, though it rarely is. A dozen days ago, he unleashed his emotions. The appointment was (and still is) incorrect, for reasons I won’t go into here. Besides, as is often the case, the debate on an important issue has turned into a semantic fight. We fought against our own and other people’s words, and we watched to see whether or not our representatives agreed to utter them (as with racism, systemic or not). But we don’t ask ourselves what happened to the people hidden behind our words – I’m talking about our fellow citizens or people of Arab origin, it’s not necessary – our words tried to mark these people or make people forget. .
Yet the questions that have haunted me since the “Elkavabi Affair” fell into oblivion are: What do we do to create connections with the people in question, beyond the words we accept or refuse to say? If we confirm the existence of Islamophobia, do we actively seek to identify and assimilate those whom we claim to protect, or are we content to condemn our consciences to those in the opposite camp who do not think like us (including Muslims)? If we deny the existence of Islamophobia or judge that term to be ill-chosen, are we prepared to propose another term to recognize that some of our fellow citizens may be objects of contempt or intolerance? In short, once the noise and emotion subsides, are we willing to work to live better together? Should we build or say “no”?
I ask everyone, including myself, these questions. Because I don’t have the answers. Above all, by writing this text, I fear adding noise to noise. Because I feel the essential need for silence. No, because you must remain silent at all costs. It is in silence that thoughts are born, and in silence we stop reacting and ultimately find the opportunity to act.
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