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Silence Is Power

In: Social Issues

Submitted By mollswild
Words 1072
Pages 5
Molly Wilder
Professor Barros
FYS: Revised essay 1
October 5, 2011

Silence is Power

It was a beautiful Sunday morning and the entire church of St. Louis in Batesville, Indiana, was full. There was nothing unusual about the Catholic mass that day—the congregation was alive, music echoed triumphantly, and the sermon was enthusiastic and thought provoking for all. Everything went as it typically does until the end when it was time for the weekly announcements. Instead of news about an upcoming fish fry or a congratulations message for a recently baptized newborn baby in the parish, one of our priests, Father Stephen, came out of the vestibule to the podium. He had recently been “demoted” in his role at the parish, but no one would have expected the extent to which his bitter words would be revealed to the congregation. Father Stephen stood at the podium on the altar while giving his speech of resignation from the parish. It was clear that he was frustrated and annoyed at his recent demotion, and he portrayed this dissatisfaction through a harsh speech. The purpose of this essay is to examine the discourse of the priest’s speech. I will discuss its passionate nature and its brevity--how the speaker conceals information from the listeners and what this means. We will use this evidence to argue how silence demonstrates more power than the actual power the priest possesses. * 1
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“Over the past 25 years of my Priestly ordination and service, I have never struggled with a departing message to the various communities and institutions I served as I did with this message, very short though it is. This is for two obvious reasons. First, because its nature and circumstances are uniquely different from when I would simply announce my transfer! Secondly, because I feel more for you, the good parishioners of St. Louis Parish, Batesville, than I feel for myself.
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It is no longer news to you about the decision by which my status as Associate Pastor has been changed to Sacramental Assistance. After a careful review of the terms, and other logistics prompted by the said new status, I am clear; this change is disproportionately very unfair to me! * Based on this development, I have decided in full consultation with my Bishop back in Nigeria, to voluntarily withdraw my services from St. Louis Parish, Batesville, and the Archdiocese where I have gratefully served for the past five years; effective at the end of this month, August, 2011.” * Norman Fairclough argues in “Discourse and Power” that language, “in” and “behind” discourse, is the reason individuals possess power-- people are able to manipulate their words (language) to feel as if they are in control. In accordance to Fairclough’s argument, I am able to relate his discussion to Father Stephen’s speech in that hidden power is produced when there is a ‘one-sidedness’ in the discourse—“the actual viewers or listeners or readers have to negotiate a relationship with the ideal subject” (41). * I will begin analyzing the speech by first examining how the speaker holds the power. Father Stephen, the giver/producer of the speech, automatically holds power over his audience, the church congregation, because he is the person in control of the matter at hand. Also, he possesses power because of the position he occupies within the institution of the Catholic Church. This particular situation was not a dialogue—the congregation was not able to respond or react publically following the priest’s speech. The listeners, including myself, felt subordinate, powerless, and unable to do anything to discuss in further detail the message of the speech. The speaker’s motive was to inform the Church of his dissatisfaction, which turned out to be enough to resign from his duties at St. Louis Parish and move elsewhere. * To further our exploration of Father Stephen’s motives, I will examine the speaker’s use of punctuation and emotive diction, although this may initially seem like a minor detail. In his address, Father Stephen was brief, yet passionate. First I will examine the exclamation points throughout the speech. For example, he says “this change is disproportionately unfair to me!” (10) and “because its nature and circumstances are uniquely different from when I would simply announce my transfer!” (5). Father Stephen uses these emotional phrases in an attempt to receive understanding from his subordinate audience, which creates within himself a sense of authority. * What we must be careful not to forget is that the speaker fails to tell his audience why he feels the way he does. Why is “this change disproportionately unfair” to him? Why are “its nature and circumstances uniquely different…”? There is ambiguity in the discourse—he never announces why he is leaving the parish. By omitting this information, the speaker’s “silence”—or lack of explaining the whole truth-- demonstrates more power than the actual power he possesses while giving the speech. * Father Stephen’s discourse can be examined in direct accordance to Fairclough. As seen in Fairclough’s example given in “Discourse and Power” about media discourse, the producers can “determine what is included and excluded, how events are represented, and even the subject positions of their audiences” (42). Father Stephen does exactly this in his own speech: he demonstrates the “power to disguise power…the power to constrain content: to favor certain interpretations and ‘wordings’ of events, while excluding others…a form of hidden power” (43). Ultimately, his message shelters the parishioners from the whole truth because he chose to omit information that the parishioners have the right to know. * Granted the obvious factor that Father Stephen held the power in the situation as described, I have discussed further the existence of a hidden power— silence. The speaker in this case demonstrates the most potency through his silence about certain facts. This power is more valuable because-- as we conclude by studying Norman Fairclough—only the speaker is able to choose what to say and what to refrain from discussing. Thus, the audience is automatically placed at a subordinate level because they are unable to respond or react to the comments stated and are unable to be informed about other vital information because of the way in which the speaker conceals it.

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