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A Question of Silence
The other day I went to a one of the conversations put on by Concordia’s University of the Streets Café and Montreal Life Stories. The title? “Surviving Mass Violence: Is there an obligation to remember and share?”
There were a few survivors at the conversation from Cambodia’s genocide, as well as the Rwandan, Algerian and Armenian genocides. The big question of the evening was whether it’s best for the survivors to share or if we should respect their silence. There were voices speaking for both sides and all had interesting and compelling arguments.
Those for sharing or talking about the horrific events experienced spoke about the responsibility to reveal the truth behind the propaganda, media and historic accounts of a genocide. They also stressed that sharing such experiences may work towards helping prevent these kinds of things from happening again. And of course, there was the argument that sharing their stories is cathartic and healing.
Others were reluctant to put yet another heavy burden on the shoulders of victims who have already suffered enough; respecting the fact that remembering these experiences is sometimes too painful. One participant pointed out that there are all kinds of silence, which is itself a form of communication, but since we can’t write it down and we’re uncomfortable with it, we privilege speaking and words over silence and its nuances.
Still others mentioned that there are other ways to share or purge these memories, for example, through art.
A kind of answer seems to run through the middle. Many people thought that both silence and talking are needed to heal and that sharing should not be forced, it should come from the individual when they are ready. There was also the fact that many of these victims are from various cultures who deal with trauma differently. Therefore, the coping mechanisms most appropriate to each culture should be encouraged, instead of force-feeding all victims of genocides or other conflicts western methods of healing and coping.
One of the speakers, Muy Leng Pong, a survivor from Cambodia, told everyone how he determines what is best for him. He asks himself: What is the purpose of telling my story? Is it helping the listener? Is it helping to heal me?
What do you think?