The silent treatment is a well-known relationship tactic that allows the injured party to get their point across without uttering a single word. A form of in-your-face avoidance, the silent treatment allows time to pass and steam to vent, paving the way for reconciliation between family members.
Suppose the silent treatment could accomplish even more?
In the case of a brave and ultimately powerful group of Liberian women, the silent treatment fostered much more than a make-up session between husband and wife. Their silence eventually grew into an earth-shattering roar that ended years of civil war and elected Africa’s first female president to office.
Imagine a country ruled by fear. Children as young as nine are pressed into service as soldiers. Women of all ages go in daily fear of rape and other atrocities. Families starve for want of rice. Faced with a life of such horrors, what can a solitary person do?
She can, and did, dream.
Leymah Gbowee dreamed of a call to action, a gathering of the women in her church in order to pray for peace. The Christian Women’s Peace Initiative was born from this dream. Inspired by the goal of peace, the Liberian Muslim Women’s Organization was also formed. These groups overcame their faith-based differences and joined forces, creating the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace.
Visits to citizens interred in displacement camps spurred the women to strengthen their silent campaign. Dressed in white, they staged peaceful protests in highly visible locations. A banner announced their intentions: “The women of Liberia want peace now.”
It did not happen overnight, and the women of Liberia continued their strong and silent vigil in spite of overwhelming odds. Their president ignored them. Their countrymen threatened them. Their mothers feared for them.
Thoughts of their children sustained them.
When the Liberian president at last agreed to meet with them, the women marched en masse to his mansion. More women joined them, and Gbowee read a statement that finally convinced the president to attend the upcoming peace talks.
It took eight weeks before an agreement could be reached. Eight weeks of protests and danger, culminating in the democratic election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that one person can find a way to change the world.
Where words are strong, images can be stronger. Directed by Gini Reticker and produced by Abigail E. Disney, the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell, one of a five-part series on PBS, offers imagery that overrides the horrors of war and gives a voice to the soul.
When paired with strength, silence speaks volumes.