A CULTURE OF SILENCE
By: Deji Yesufu
A friend published an article recently titled “Keep Your Mouth Shut”. In the piece he was advising expectant mothers to be silent about their pregnancies. My friend has a way he weaves his essays around life experiences and so he told the story of how he and his wife kept the matter of their pregnancy private until they had their child. After some years of waiting for the child, they felt it was necessary to keep quiet about it all. They succeeded at keeping it away from church people, except for a few who found out eventually. They also kept it away from their parent.
I found the latter a bit extreme but one must understand the very sensitive issue around pregnancy in this clime and the reason why some people decide to do what they do. In this essay, I will not be criticizing my friend for his actions; this is one of those occasions that we should give full liberty to people to do whatever their convictions permit them. I will however wish to warn against a culture of silence that is quite pervasive in our clime. I’ll also try to suggest better approach to things like this. Again there is no right or wrong in matters like this; except that as Christians (and my friend quoted the Bible) our faith in God should permit us to deal with issues like these differently. To make my point I’ll like to tell a few stories since my friend also made his point with anecdotes.
I got married almost as an indigent person. I had so many needs and God graciously sent help in various ways. On the morning of the wedding, we needed to have someone bring “Iyawo” to church with a befitting vehicle. After some search, a dear lady offered to take my wife and my father in law to the church in her Mercedes Benz – a clean new model at that time. My wife and I always had this sense of indebtedness to her in ways we never could repay back. One day, three years into our marriage, we got the news that she had died. She had cancer and had managed to keep it secret from everyone. My wife is a doctor and she felt if she knew about it on time, she could have been able to help somehow. Of course it is also possible we would not have been able to do anything. But by lending a hand to help, even with some advise, we would have had a sense of repaying her back the good she showed us. We never did. That incidence revealed to me how deep the culture of silence is in this clime.
If you are thinking people only keep quiet on bad news, consider this one. My family visited a close relations one evening. When we were leaving, they gave my children some toys their children no longer use. When we asked why their sitting room was so sparse, they said they were moving upstairs. We learnt later that they had traveled out of the country. They left a few days after our visit. Later, many other relatives also left the country and told no one. I said to myself, when I leave too I will tell nobody. Lol.
When the thoughts of writing this article came to me, I shared it with a friend and she narrated her own experience. Another friend was married and had not taken in. This lady got my friend to go to mountains and churches to pray for her to get pregnant. Later this lady relocated. My friend will call her on the phone and ask after her well being. Yet the lady got pregnant and said nothing to her. She has now put to bed and has still not told my friend. My friend learnt about this from someone else and decided to just keep mum. That relationship, as you can guess, is gone.
My writer friend quoted Proverb 21:23 and Luke 1:24. The proverb scripture says he that keeps his mouth, will keep himself from trouble. The Luke scripture narrated how Elizabeth secluded herself after she got pregnant. If we remember the story, we will see that Elizabeth took in with John the Baptist when she was well advanced in age. The reason she secluded herself was because of the cultural shame she tried to avoid of an elderly lady being pregnant. We all know stories of some “mistaken” pregnancies women have in their late 40s and early 50s. There is an opprobrium about it and Elizabeth would have tried to avoid it. Elizabeth was not thinking that some witches could snatch her child. Another proof of this is that Mary will get pregnant too about the same time but never secluded herself.
The proverb scripture points at the dangers of talkativeness. In much words there is no lack of sin. It is not an advice to shield pregnancies from parents. Let me say it here: I pray my children never play that kind of scam with me. I will really be upset with them. When we took in with our first child, I told all of our parents the moment we got confirmation at the labs. And this was two good years after marriage. I pray I raise my children to think differently. But I am already running ahead of myself here.
Someone said that one of the culture shocks she had when she got to the West was that oyinbo people were horribly open. You meet a pregnant woman on the train and she’s happy to tell you when her EDD is. What is at the root of our culture of silence is not anything altruistic or wise, but a mind that wholly untaught. I can understand privacy; I can understand keeping issues within healthy boundaries – as there is no point putting your story out there and turning yourself to be the subject of people’s bantering. Yet there are many times that the culture of silence has turned out to be injurious to people and while my friend’s essay has its place, most times this thing turns out to hurt people more. Let me conclude by stating some advantages of being open even in cultures like our own.
- You will find help in your time of need: The month of January, as usual, was tight. Following the Yuletide I had spent everything on me and yet January will not end and thus salary were not yet paid. Everyone I knew who could help where people who will only lend me money. But I had this friend who I had known for no less than 15 years. He was doing well and I felt if I ask him for financial help, he will look down on me. When I couldn’t bear the need anymore, I reached out and he sent help. If I had kept quiet, my trouble would remain with me. This is not to give liberty to folks who do nothing and use the internet to beg everywhere. But there are clearly times of need and a culture of silence will prevent many from finding help where it is just next to them.
- For Christians, your challenges will engender prayers and praise: The blessing of belonging to a Christian congregation is that you can find fellow believers to pray with you. Most problems people have are not money problems. When you share your burdens, church people can pray with you and when God answers, it will be an opportunity for praise to God and testimony for the weak in the days of their own challenges. Any congregation where church people do not have liberty to share their deepest need, is not truly walking in the path that Christ had called them to. God’s people should feel free to share their burdens with one another.
- You will defeat an animist mindset: Another reason why I will not support a culture of silence is because what is producing this mindset is not necessarily the Bible or science but an animist belief that is rampant in our clime. There is the belief that there are some demons and devils out there ready to snuff out the good coming people’s ways or that might exacerbate a given challenge. Here is where true faith in Christ comes in. If we believe God, we will not fear. Also, while you can hide from men who are physical, you cannot hide from spirits. If demons have not devoured that child you are carrying it is because God is keeping you and keeping a pregnancy silent will not safeguard you even at delivery. I hope our people can come up higher in their thinking.
I hope to live a long and fruitful life. But if it ever happens that I am diagnosed with a terminal disease, after I have embarked on a good medical trip to fix it problem – if it can, I will also come to my blog and tell you all what my challenges are. I will do this to forestall a situation where my sudden death will take people by surprise. I will never want to leave this world like that. Second, I know a few people appreciate what I do here and many of them will be happy to pray for me. I will really covet their prayers and perhaps God may answer them and give me more years. You can be sure that I will not tolerate a culture of silence on a matter like that.
Again, I write this essay to disabuse people’s minds of this tendency to just keep quiet about issues which could lead to terrible consequences. I clearly do not agree with my friend and I think that he actually wrested those scriptures to say the things the Bible never intended them to say. I agree that not all things are meant for the public. But I disagree with the notion that close relations should be kept in the dark regarding salient family matters – especially something like pregnancy. I do not think that this is a matter to pull punches on but at the same time I think there are dangers we all should be aware of when it come to this terrible culture of silence in our clime.