Silence. It is a very deadly word. It can literally destroy a person's life or put another person's life in jeopardy. If you become aware of something that is wrong or dangerous, what should you do? Unfortunately, as a norm many people hide behind a code of silence that they claim is a code of integrity and principle.
When most of us were children, we grew up being told not to "tattle tale" on one another. The "no telling" rule for ten year olds has become the cornerstone for many young people's code of conduct.
The "code of silence" has become a cardinal rule in the teenage underground, in the drug world and in a growing number of people's every day lives. Too often, I hear people say "don't get involved; stay out of it."
How many times have you witnessed an accident and not pulled over? How many times have you observed a teenager shoplifting and not said something to the teenager or to a store official? I am sure if the truth be told, we can all think of minor circumstances where we elected not to get involved. To justify our passive position, we create a rationalization in our minds to defend our inaction.
These petty little things are not going to alter the human landscape we walk, however the more serious circumstances will. Keeping silent about drug activity in your neighborhood is dangerous. Not saying anything about businesses that exploit underage teenagers is potentially destructive. Ignoring a drunk driver could be lethal.
A lot of teenagers grow up believing that passing on information of importance to authority figures is "ratting" on someone. In teenage life there is nothing worse than being a rat. You cannot get any lower or more "slimy" than being a rat. For many young people, the definition is very black and white. There is no gray. Their code of silence prevents passing any information on, no matter what. They hold this position even if certain behaviors are life threatening.
The "code" forbids any kind of information transferal. Any type of communication on that level is seen as pure and simple betrayal.
Being loyal and holding a person's confidence in the name of friendship and keeping silent on an issue or behavior is potentially dangerous, illegal or fatal.
If a classmate is being harassed because of his color, ethnicity or sexual orientation, it is wrong to keep silent. If someone is dealing pot and/or pills at school, it is wrong to keep silent. If you are at a party and a popular boy gets drunk and forces himself on a girl, it is wrong to keep silent. If your best friend is sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night and taking the family car (and does not have a license), it is wrong and in the name of friendship, you should not keep silent.
Why has the code of silence become so dangerous? Why are a growing number of teenagers unwilling to break the "code?"
It has become so dangerous because it is protecting or hiding very dangerous and destructive behaviors. A growing number of students are unwilling to break the code because of fear. No teenager wants to subject him or her self to being singled out or fingered by the power brokers in school. No teenager wants his or her family or friends threatened or his or her reputation unfairly tarnished or destroyed. No teenager wants his or her personal property damaged and/or destroyed.
Many who have been courageous and have elected to break the code have paid a big price for doing so. Life as they see it has been forever changed. For many, it is not worth the anxiety and pressure. Thus, it is easier to pretend you didn't see or didn't know anything.
Over the last number of months, we have all read and heard some horrific stories about hazing. Traditionally, hazing was supposed to be a series of "hokey" initiation rites to gain entrance into a club, a team or a fraternity or sorority.
In one of the colleges where I teach, students pledging a fraternity are asked to do rather harmless things as part of their initiation. However, that is not the case in many high schools and colleges around the country. It seems that this initiation practice has become not only humanly demeaning and brutal, but unfortunately in some cases, lethal.
Most of us were shocked to learn of the alleged hazing incident that happened in a school community west of us while the football team was away at a football camp.
As I am writing, all of the facts are not clear. The code of silence is definitely impairing the school and police investigations. What we do know as fact is that a group of good kids went away in August to a football camp. As part of this annual football experience, a so-called "rite of initiation" took place where a number of younger players were initiated by a number of senior players.
One of the initiated came home bleeding from his rectum. Upon inquiry, his parents found out that the bleeding was not caused by a football injury, but rather as a result of this players' initiating rite. The parents immediately went to the authorities.
What was supposed to be, in some peoples' minds, a harmless "rite of initiation" has now emerged as a serious allegation of sexual abuse, perpetrated by a number of senior players. They committed acts of sodomy using a broomstick and other objects against younger players while other teammates watched.
The code of silence is making it painfully difficult to get at all the facts. No matter what the full story ultimately is, this kind of behavior, no matter what the context, is reprehensible. Protecting the victimizers is not noble, it is blatantly wrong. By keeping silent, those who may have known, watched or in any way participated are not being loyal or good friends.
As I talked to more and more high school and college students about this episode, I was appalled at how many students from every walk of life shared stories of similar magnitude they knew first and second hand, that no one has ever become aware of. These students carry these secrets, and in some cases the scars that go with them.
We must disarm this kind of silence because it is simply wrong.