A time to speak and a time to be silent: three days for reflection

By Jill Segger
June 20, 2016

Sometimes only silence will serve. On the Friday evening following the murder of Jo Cox on the street outside her constituency surgery, I was among a group of Quakers who gathered to hold the MP, her family and our country in the Light.

There was no discussion, no planning of future action. There was only wordless waiting on the Spirit, the holding of a space where the edge could be taken off anger, hostility and fear; where gaps could be bridged and remaking become a possibility. In this space, we could share our shock and sorrow without recourse to words which might, even inadvertently, have hardened into resentment and thus into impediments to reconciliation.

The referendum campaign was suspended until the following Sunday and my initial response was to wish that it would not resume, leaving the remaining days before the poll to reflection and exploration of facts without further noise and vitriol.

However, despite the ugliness of the resumption and the horrifying attempts of Nigel Farage to justify the 'breaking point' poster by accusing his opponents of 'using' Jo Cox's death, I have changed my mind. Debate is the lifeblood of democracy and to close it down would to have been to acquiesce in the power of violence to silence freedom. There is a time to speak and a time to be silent.

But silence is essential to finding a way towards the speech which will open a way forward. The killing of Jo Cox was not only an attack upon a young mother which has left a family broken, but also on the very nature of representative democracy. It is very easy to be drawn into the frenzy of outrage and shouting which has followed this terrible event – to be seduced by clickbait attempts to recruit us to a particular stance and to forget that if division on the current level continues, there can be no good outcome.

The courts will deal with the charge on which Thomas Mair is arraigned. We can at least keep silent about that on social media and temper our language away from venom and revenge in private conversation. We can choose to dial down on the angry rhetoric on both sides of the debate and seek to find a more civil and productive discourse in these last days before the poll.

Above all, we must keep in mind that on 24 June, we have to live together. There will be bridges to be built and if the result is – as seems likely – very close, how we use silence over the coming three days may be the difference between the kind of society Jo Cox worked so hard to build and a descent into further conflict. “She saw no one as a permanent enemy”, said her fellow MP Stephen Doughty. Let us do no less.

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen

Further resources from Ekklesia on the EU referendum: *What kind of European future? (Ekklesia, 13 June 2016) – http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23160
* Assessing Christian contributions to the EU referendum debate (Ekklesia, 20 June 2016) – http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23188* Ten principles to guide voting in the EU referendum and beyond (Ekklesia, 21 June 2016) - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23194
* Ekklesia’s EU referendum briefing and commentary: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/eureferendum

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.