My son and I had an interesting conversation tonight. I know how hard it is to know what to say when a friend is telling an inappropriate joke or using language that makes us uncomfortable, so I asked if he would like some ideas for how to respond in those situations. He told me that sometimes it does happen, but that he doesn't encourage it. As we talked about it, I realized that he needed to know that unless he is actively discouraging it, he is encouraging it. Silence is a language few of us understand well.
One example of this is a time early in our marriage when I was talking to Gregg about an idea I had, something I wanted to do. I talked to him about making plans, discussed different options, and explored how things might turn out. After about a week of this, Gregg finally told me that he didn't think it was a good idea. I was floored. When I asked him why he was backing out on me, he said, "I never said we should do this." I quickly pointed out that he had never said that he didn't want to, either. After that, he worked harder to let me know how he was feeling about the things we discussed, and I made sure to ask what he was thinking along the way. Silence had meant completely opposite things to each of us.
There is certainly a time to remain silent. I don't do very well at remembering that. But there are times when silence can signal an acceptance of the unacceptable, or a withdrawal of much-needed support, or a lack of interest and concern for others. During those times, we need to understand that the only way we can send a clear message is with our words.