A Culture of Silence

May 31, 2019

     City and Country could be described as a bubble of thought just as easily as it could be described as a progressive utopia. Regardless of our desire to be inclusive, and our efforts to reach that goal, C&C sometimes struggles when it comes to being truly open-minded. 

     Whether on purpose or not, our community has developed a “code” that we live by. What is right at C&C? What is not? However, in an attempt to be moral and kind, we have created an implied set of values that stifles, or even shuns, people with unpopular opinions. 

     When being nice all the time becomes the standard, it can be even more shocking to hear someone say something critical. Before the XIIIs, it seemed most teachers were trying to be nice all the time, even when a student did something disrespectful. I understand why this may be preferable for younger kids, maybe up to the age of seven or eight. However, if someone pushes it extremely far and a teacher gets mad, as any human would, the kids will be noticeably shocked. I do not think anyone is truly to blame for this, as it is just the culture that C&C has created. 

     This year, Ann and Trayshia were both quite honest with us. They told us how they felt even if that might have been hard for us to swallow. However, even they have a point where they stop themselves, which is important. 

     What actual effect does our sensitivity have on the School? Our culture of being scared of the uncomfortable is apparent here in the Newspaper. Nearly every time an article is written that is debatable, we face backlash. Chase Holness shared her opinion that there are two genders in a segment where the XIIIs were asked, “What might your friends not know about you?” She faced backlash, although there was no discussion between Chase and her critics. A significant amount of the “uncomfortable talk” that should be taking place happens behind closed doors, behind people’s backs, and does not yield any positive results. 

     When we write an article, hear that someone was offended by it, and that person won’t address their concerns in front of us, we have to wonder why. Do they not have enough respect for us and the newspaper to be willing at least to engage in a friendly discourse? 

     The concept of an “echo chamber” is far from exclusive to City and Country. In fact, this idea is frequently found in discussions surrounding American universities. And just as leftist New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof said about liberals at college, City and Country wants “to be inclusive of people who don’t look like us — so long as they think like us.” 

     This concept is similar to “groupthink,” which is “a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.” This roots back to the idea of being afraid of conflict and criticism, which is the case at C&C. Our fear has brought us to the point where we are so afraid that we isolate ourselves and try to suppress those who disagree. 

     This year the XIIIs chose to focus our play on City and Country’s sensitivity, while still being funny and lighthearted. We specifically explored the idea of how a community-minded school can, ironically, be incredibly stifling. Now that people have seen High Stakes & Frosted Flakes, we hope they will have the courage and patience to listen to those who do not share their opinions.

     The play follows a scandal (that Scott thinks cereal is a soup) through the eyes of the XIIIs’ Newspaper, detailing the struggles involved in putting out a tough story in a climate like our own. After the article about the scandal is shut down because it could be too damaging to C&C’s reputation, the XIIIs meet to discuss what they should do next. They express their many concerns about a free press and the repercussions the XIIIs face for upsetting their readers. 

     Ultimately, they realize that it is in itself disrespectful not to publish tough stories since that shows a judgment against the C&C community. Seamus O’Reilly had a line expressing why it is so important to speak about uncomfortable things: “When we don’t openly talk about our different lives, we kill our community. We talk behind each other’s backs, we become trapped in our bubbles, and as a whole, our community suffers. We have to make diversity of thought the norm.” 

     This is incredibly true. Because of our fear of disagreement, our community resorts to whispering behind people’s backs. If word gets out that someone has a vastly different opinion, isn’t it far more harmful for people not to address this openly? Being secretive leads to a lack of trust and creates a divided atmosphere, which is far from ideal in a school.

     At this point, the class of ‘19 only has a few more weeks left at C&C. However, we hope to start a conversation in our remaining time here. I believe our best bet is to do this through the Newspaper, which serves as our most direct line of communication to our School. Yes, we would like everyone to be more open to sensitive topics, and it would be fantastic for people to rethink our school’s values. However, that does not happen overnight. What we do ask is that you try to get past your fears and openly communicate with us, as well as future newspapers. We ask that you view us not just as the XIIIs’ newspaper, but as C&C’s newspaper. In our attempts to create a safe space, we have created an environment that discourages respectful disagreements.

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