You Have the Right to Remain Silent

In the weeks leading up to January 5, about 100 people in Naples, FL planned a trip to D.C. for a pro-Trump rally. That morning, they departed from a high-end grocery store owned by conservative firebrand, Alfie Oakes, who funded the trip and posted, “off to show love and support for our great President!”

By the time they returned on Thursday, the world had witnessed domestic terrorism at our Capitol. Let’s assume best intent and not paint all the participants with the same anarchist brush. One would expect that those who just went to show “love and support” would immediately condemn the violence. Right?


Oakes described the trip as “amazing… being surrounded by great Americans.”  Others on the trip were “surprised that law enforcement would harass peaceful protestors.” These people weren’t wearing pointy white hoods in crazy town – although several sported MAGA Civil War January 6, 2021 t-shirts which kind of blows the whole peace and love thing. No, these were ordinary citizens who were angry.

Given the bifurcation that is our country right now, I suspect that the only thing we all share is anger.

I’m angry, too.  I’m angry that the police officers on duty that day were outnumbered because their leaders didn’t prepare for an angry, white crowd the same way they have for angry, black crowds. I’m angry that former military and off-duty police and firefighters were among the crowd that day. People who should be revered for their commitment to serve and protect joined the criminal insurrection and engaged in violence against their brothers and sisters in uniform – costing one of their own his life.

I’m angry that a 14-year Air Force veteran joined the mob as a loud and proud member of QAnon – the far-right, unfounded conspiracy theory that Trump is battling a secret war against Satan-worshipping Democratic pedophiles. The day before she died, she tweeted, “Nothing will stop us…. they can try and try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours….dark to light.”

Roger that.

I’m angry at what we continue to learn about the people and the planning behind this “peaceful rally.” Some made pipe bombs and stocked up on zip ties (presumably for hostages). Someone erected a gallows and noose on the Hill. Reportedly, members of Congress gave group tours to help rioters find their way around when they stormed it the next day.

A legislator from West Virginia, an Olympic medalist from Colorado, a consultant from Florida, a tattoo artist from Illinois, a florist from Texas, a CEO from New Jersey, and the son of a Brooklyn Judge have all been arrested for their criminal participation. And let us not forget the pipe-fitter/welder Robert Keith Packer from Newport News, VA who packed weapons and his favorite “Camp Auschwitz” hoodie for the event.

What happened at the Capitol isn’t the result of some fringe group living in an extremist compound in the woods somewhere.

What is most striking is not only how casually people accept these displays of extremism or how easily they can rationalize them as “anarchists on both sides,” but how an untold number of Americans openly perpetuate conspiracy theories, bigotry, violent threats, criminal activity, and the breakdown of democracy as if cheering on their favorite football team. What happened at the Capitol isn’t the result of some fringe group living in an extremist compound in the woods somewhere. They police our streets, teach our children, own businesses in our communities, and live next door.  And, because of overwhelming online chatter that “this is just the beginning,” some are out there planning the next bad thing right now.

I’ve shared brain science behind why Facts Don’t Win Arguments and why Fake News Fools the Best of Us. But, no matter who you voted for, it’s not hard to figure out how we got here. Even as thousands of people were engaged in domestic terrorism, Trump’s message to them was “to go home” only before telling them, “We love you. You’re very special.”

As radical views escalate without consequence, we become inured, and the bar for accepting the unacceptable clicks south a notch – while the extremists become increasingly more emboldened.

And then there is that tiny, 3-letter word: but.

“I wept when I saw what happened that day, but what about the BLM riots?”

“What happened is terrible, but they didn’t set cars on fire and loot businesses. ”

“I don’t agree with what they did, but I understand why they did it.”

That little word BUT minimizes everything that comes before it and emphasizes everything that comes after it. The second part is the main point they want us to focus on.

This is no longer about political ideology. We are at an inflection point that will define the character of each of us – whether we have the courage to stand up and speak out against evil even when we feel like we simply cannot have one more hard conversation.

I get it.  I’m tired, too. Like many people, I’ve worked hard to listen better.  Seek to understand, not persuade. Make the other person feel heard. Find common ground. But what happens when we don’t WANT to listen anymore?  What happens when we’re so tired of the hostility that it’s just easier to avoid it altogether?

We’ve all silently debated about whether to speak up or stay silent with political controversy – when someone rationalizes bad behavior, spreads conspiracy theories, or perpetuates claims that have absolutely no factual basis.  No doubt the retired fireman from Pennsylvania who assaulted 3 officers with a fire extinguisher shared his outrage before the rally. I’m sure the Cleveland teacher didn’t keep quiet about her QAnon mission to expose the governmental cabal of pedophiliacs who are abducting, torturing, and cannibalizing children. Surely, all those people chanting “hang Mike Pence” said something to someone about their feelings.

I wonder how many people spoke up.

We all have the right to remain silent. While silence will definitely side-step controversy, it is also tacit approval. The literal definition of the word tacit is “without words or speech; implied but not actually expressed.”  Intended or not, tacit approval communicates the status quo is not only acceptable, but that it will be allowed to continue. In today’s world of bad behavior, non-stop noise and an avalanche of disinformation, silence may be the most toxic strategy to healing this broken world.

Those of us in the 360° Nation, HumansFirst, and Bringing Humanity Together circles have talked a lot about having the hard conversations for the right reasons. As my friend, Dennis Pitocco so eloquently wrote recently, “Right now, it feels like a moment in history where choices made will have a ripple effect for generations to come. Whether you’re a partner, friend, parent, leader, teacher, politician, or a combination thereof, we are called to show up and do more good to help fuel a better version of the world we live in.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  He also said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.”

You have the right to remain silent. But will you?


Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Dr. Melissa Hughes is a neuroscience geek, keynote speaker, and author. Her latest book, Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round explores fascinating research about how the brain works and how to make it work better for greater happiness, well-being, and success. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies to illuminate the powerful forces that influence how we think, learn, communicate and collaborate. Through a practical application of neuroscience in our everyday lives, Melissa shares productive ways to harness the skills, innovation and creativity within each of us in order to contribute the intellectual capital that empowers organizations to succeed with social, financial and cultural health.

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  1. Dear Melissa,

    Goodness me that’s quite an article. There is so much negativity in the world right now, and violence seems to be the first option in any country. Violence seems to be perpetrated by a tiny minority, but gathering in a group, they can be stirred up by a couple viscous, loud, instinctively violent individuals.

    Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, their loyalties and political persuasions. The idea of being to sit down with for example ‘opposing political parties’ should be possible. Naturally some folk will become very agitated at another’s posture, but everyone has the right to their own opinion. The key element is empathy. When I say ’empathy’ I mean achieving a mutual agreement sometimes agree to disagree. But recognizing the right to do so. Whether one agrees or disagrees, there should be a natural platform where issues can be discussed and hopefully resolved. I have first hand experience of cooperating with different members of political parties in my local community. I have always promoted the idea, the concept and hopefully the reality of sitting down together to resolve any issue. This is what the residents want. Not infighting. In the regional news paper I also promote such a posture and typically end a letter with a positive note.

    In our local community, where I am, along with other members, a trustee of the Community Center. In the close where I live there are folk. neighbors of different political parties; just two parties. We are all friends. We all look out for each other. There are people from two of the main political parties on the Committee. We do not argue, we do not bring in politics, we serve the residents and reach solutions for the residents. There is camaraderie, there is humor, but no infighting. This is of course in an ideal world.

    I do really do resonate with your words. It is easy to stay silent, but I do believe people who recognize that there can be different opinions, beliefs and viewpoints should recognize that everyone as a different perspective. Yes, challenging at times, but we do need a dialogue. We need to talk.

    Thank you, Melissa.

    Simon Lever
    Championing Positivity, Empathy and Kindness

  2. I don’t live in the USA but I deeply respect this great country and I follow its events carefully.
    My contribution to this discussion will be limited only to expressing a fear.
    My fear is that this malaise created in the United States is deeper and is not limited to the state apparatus. The contradictions between the various states within the US are evident. The division between state and people will also deepen: the assault on the Capitol can be taken as an example, and more street protests will most likely break out among the popular masses dissatisfied for different reasons. During the summer months, the black population mobilized and showed their power in the streets. With the assault on Congress, the whites also showed up. Both sides have shown that they are capable and willing to fight against the state if necessary. Now the discontent no longer affects only blacks, but also whites and it is obvious that there is also the possibility that these forces will come into conflict not only with the established order, but also with each other.
    I hope that the new administration will find the energy to restore calm and cooperation to a people who have always been a symbol of true democracy for the whole world.

    • Aldo, you are so right that this goes much deeper than politics. This has become a question of what it means to be a patriot, what a democracy stands for, and how we show up to the rest of the world. Many are angry and scared and frustrated with our inability or unwillingness to move closer to a civil society committed to repairing a broken country. I think the kind of conversations we’re having here are one step in the right direction.
      Thank you for sharing your insights.

    • I have always had a great respect for the USA, which I have visited very often, my daughter studied there and hoped to live there but found no sponsors available.
      I have also read many books, even recently, just to try to understand.
      Unfortunately, as also happens in my country, too often the ego prevails, generations lose some fundamental values along the way, progress and social evolution do not always go hand in hand with values of civilization and mutual respect that are the basis of all.
      I wish this wonderful and glorious country many wishes to return to being that symbol of democracy and civilization that the whole world has always recognized.
      Congratulations to you for the article and a cordial greeting.

  3. Thank you Melissa, I have so many thoughts and reflections on this. I kind of started feeling resentful that we think this is “poiltics” and we should not say anything or write on LI cause it is not “professional”. This is not about politics it is about a country, its citizens, unity or separation, future of our humanity and it is deep in my opinion. It is not about one conspiracy theory but many. The fact that facts do not matter. How will we speak again with people like them who felt like they are showing love for their country? So many people like you and people from all walks of life need to get together to give good guidance to the next president. We cannot ignore what happened cause it is not the end yet. As an immigrant who came to this country 22 years ago it was my saddest day and I cried. I went thru the same shock in my home country and it was hard to go thru it here in my chosen one. Thank you for starting the conversation. How we get here is something we need to understand.

    • I agree, Brooke. How we got here and how do we survive it? I rarely write about politics but in my mind this is much bigger than politics. I believe this is about how we communicate with one another, how much acceptable behavior can we tolerate, and the tacit approval of escalating extremism. To me, this isn’t about whether you voted for Trump or not. It’s about being able to condemn white supremacy and radical ideologies – even if it is demonstrated by your “team.” There are so many conspiracy theories floating around and as you state above, “facts do not matter.” I agree also with your statement that we need to find a way to come together and redefine what it means to be American. Thank you for weighing in.

  4. Every single person involved needs to be found, arrested, tried and if found guiulty – punished accordingly so that they and others understand that this is not acceptable behavior. Sadly we already have an example of one of the perps being granted bail because daddy is a judge.

    and when i say everyone i mean everyone – congressmen, senators and presidents.

    we have laws that prevent people who have risen against the country be banned from sitting in congress and the senate …. and yet …and yet …

    and yet – my prediction is we will at a political level do close to nothing – that joe will seek us all to come together and work together and put the past behind us …. and so nobody learns that there ARE consequences for your actions .. sadly I don’t think they are really going to learn that this time round …. and so it will happen again – but worse – again.

    i hope I am wrong. I really do … and only time will provide the answer.

    • I agree that there are many bad actors all the way to the top. Bad behavior without consequence will only result in more emboldened bad behavior. The folks in the community have talked a lot about walking the walk and having the hard conversations for the right reasons. It looks like we’ll be tested on this issue. If we can’t find ways to find any kind of common ground within the 360 Nation and HumansFirst, I’m not optimistic the rest of the country will. My hope is that we lead the way. Time will tell…

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, John. We all play a role.

  5. Thank you, Melissa Hughes, Ph.D., for writing such an article. From people’s different perspectives with their different culture, religious, economic, and personal interests and needs, things can appear to be so different. When we expand our viewpoint to looking at things from the human point of view, at least I am concerned about how we, and our next generations can live well on this planet. While such a social matter happens, we are paying less attention to the pandemic, neither talking about thinking about the reason for the pandemic. Not only inside the human world is there a fight between good and evil, but also it happens in the universe. I am very interested in knowing that you are in the brain technology industry, as I write a lot of words on ancient wisdom about the human brain/heart and the abdominal area… I am looking forward to reading more of your articles. Thank you.

  6. This puts it in perspective on so many levels Melissa,

    The rate of events and media contribution with exposure is faster than of the rate of being able to digest for many. This time is imperative to check in before checking out. Observation of this space allows one to take stock and then hopefully add to the world a more reasonable voice. One without violence and one hat holds dignity.

    Your words here are of great essence and provide the encouragement of emotional relevance and intelligent choices. The more we are inclined to know the facts…the more we are able to do to our choices.

    Never did like that 3 letter word… “but”…
    You nailed it here…

    “That little word BUT minimizes everything that comes before it and emphasizes everything that comes after it. The second part is the main point they want us to focus on.”

    “But” to me …supports the idea of looking for an excuse to not act… And hide
    To be a clearly defined voice, there are no “buts”. Active speaking is action, adding the “but” takes the impact away and puts it into the waste category to me.

    There is reasoning to be done before you speak. And that includes the ability to listen carefully

    Really a lot to reflect on here Melissa. It’s so well articulated. The anger is real, the feelings are real, what to do…you just did. We share with the grace and ole fully add the thoughts that push one to answer their own behaviours these days. The critical judgements are minamalizing personal integrity too.

    Thank you so much for adding to my reservoir of thoughts.
    Here with you my friend.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, Paula. It’s difficult to know how not to fuel the fire with those we disagree while also not staying silent. From the level of engagement on this post, I can see I’m not along. Listening is something I’ve been trying to improve. I’m not perfect but certainly more intentional.

  7. It takes courage these days to “not remain silent” so kudos to you for sharing your candid voice of reason. We must all work in harmony with each other to stand up for what is right, to speak up for what is fair, and to always voice any corrections so that the ignorant become informed and justice is never ignored. Every time a person allows an act of ignorance to happen, they delay our progress for true (positive) change. Every person, every action, and every reaction matters. We become responsible for the actions of others the instant we become conscious of what they are doing wrong and fail to remind them of what is right. As they say, a choir is made up of many voices, including yours and mine. If one by one all go silent then all that will be left are the soloists. The fear of offense is such a small price to pay for freedom. It’s not about “right fighting” or everyone holding hands and singing kumbaya, it’s about everyone taking the time to actually listen & understand, with respectful disagreement when disagreement prevails – leaving the door open each step of the way for enlightenment. The time is long overdue for us all to actually walk the talk “for good”

    • Thank you, Dennis. This one has been a difficult one for me for a variety of reasons – not the least of which is the fatigue that so many of us are experiencing. It’s been a long year and we’ve witnessed a lot of shocking, disturbing, frightening things. You point out that we are all responsible for the direction this country goes – by action or reaction or lack of reaction. “Every time a person allows an act of ignorance to happen, they delay our progress for true (positive) change. Every person, every action, and every reaction matters.”
      Tacit approval is powerful. Thank you for creating a space to be seen, valued, and heard.