Between the ages of 2 and 5, my stepfather molested me. At six, I was molested by a stranger. I was trained to be powerless and voiceless, and I became quite good at it .

You see, these are things you’re not supposed to reveal to anyone. I can’t tell you if threats were made, but I can tell you that throughout my early childhood I felt dirty and ashamed, like I had done something wrong. I didn’t know then that I had started to dislike myself for not having the power to say no–to find my voice.

This did not get better for a long, long time. I’ll be honest, I still struggle with it today.

All the way through school, I was bullied. This is how I know that I became good at being voiceless and powerless. When I lost my voice and my power starting at the age of two, I became passive and submissive to anyone and everyone that wanted to push me around, or swear at me, or call me names and take what they wanted from me—and take they did.

They took my dignity, they took my strength, they took my things, they took my ability to control what happened to me and they took my self-esteem.

But because I had lost my power at such a young age, they didn’t always wrestle it from me. Most times, I just handed it to them. Because I had been trained and conditioned to say yes, no matter how I felt. I was not allowed to say no, even though others were.

This made me angry, resentful, bitter, hateful and vengeful. It made me sad, mistrusting, and lonely. I hated myself and my life.

But then something happened. I made a new friend. I had so few trustworthy friends at this point that she really mattered. We became inseparable. She was fearless and strong and everything I was not. We’re still friends after 35 years.

Because of her, I learned to say no—and that nothing bad would happen when I did. Through her I learned to stand up for myself and find my voice. It took a long time, but I slowly found my power.

I’m still learning. I still struggle.

Now, as a Baha’i, I try to apply the lessons I’ve learned to my spiritual life. Baha’is believe in unity, and actively work towards achieving the unity of humanity, the unity of religion and the unity of the planet.

I’ve found, as I’ve tried to practice achieving unity, that many people believe and will tell you that in the moment when you need to use your voice the most, the best way to preserve unity is to keep quiet. We need to stop perpetuating this myth. By losing my voice and feeling powerless to speak at the risk of being dis-unifying, I am not building unity. Unity does not mean uniformity—that I have to agree with you at all times, even when I don’t:

[The] oneness of humankind, which in the words of Abdu’l-Baha, is “the gift of God to this enlightened age,” constitutes the cornerstone of Baha’u’llah’s dispensation. Here a pitfall should be warned against. Unity and uniformity are two different themes. Uniformity is deadening. It paralyzes human faculties, and dries up all fountains of originality and creative thought. Baha’u’llah never supported the idea of uniformity. By comparing the world and its multi-forms of race, nationality and language, to a garden effulgent with varieties of plant life, Abdu’l-Baha showed the undesirability of reducing all to one type. One of the glories of Baha’u’llah’s World Order is the fact that it sanctions “unity in diversity.” – Hasan Balyuzi, Star of the West, Volume 10, p. 166.

How many times have you heard or been told that to stay silent is to “keep the peace,” as if it is your reaction to someone’ s unkind, hurtful and bullying behavior that becomes the real barrier to unity?

Silence does not preserve unity. Diversity of opinion does. Honesty does. Candor does.

That means we should talk and consult, and it does not mean that we should acquiesce when confronted with a bully. I know this, because the Baha’i teachings also say that we should stand up against a bully and those who behave like tyrants:

The Kingdom of God is founded upon equity and justice, and also upon mercy, compassion, and kindness to every living soul. Strive ye then with all your heart to treat compassionately all humankind—except for those who have some selfish, private motive, or some disease of the soul. Kindness cannot be shown the tyrant, the deceiver, or the thief, because, far from awakening them to the error of their ways, it maketh them to continue in their perversity as before. No matter how much kindliness ye may expend upon the liar, he will but lie the more, for he believeth you to be deceived, while ye understand him but too well, and only remain silent out of your extreme compassion. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 158.

Telling someone to remain quiet in order to “keep the peace” is just another way of stealing their voice—and not just today, in this situation, but tomorrow, in other situations as well.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

20 Comments

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  • Barbara Lachmar
    2 days ago
    Wonderful article! Thank you for speaking out-so many of us have been touched by this plague in human society-learning to speak out honestly and openly is the beginning of Justice and healing!
    • Barbara Davis
      2 days ago
      Thank you Barbara!
  • Sara Jones Bagby
    4 days ago
    "Falling into Grace: The Trials and Triumphs of Becoming Baha'i" by Justice St Rains is offered as a recommend read. Within it is included as excellent section about struggling w/ shame individually as well as collectively within our communities beginning on page 57. #MeToo
    • Barbara Davis
      2 days ago
      Thank you Sara!
  • 5 days ago
    I am grateful for the openness and voice you have put to the importance of speaking up and verbalizing feelings to others. Rodney, thank you for sharing what happened to you. If more individuals like Barbara and Rodney could speak their truth I do believe that we would have a new race of men. The oppressed and abused are in need of others in similar situations speaking out about it so they also can walk in dignity and not feel so ashamed of their secrets that speak of the abuse they suffered at the hands of others. Our voices raised ...together which the “me too” movement has started is the sea tide of change we have been needing to speak up about. This gathering in unity around the abuse by others until now has not had a collective voice.
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  • Criselda Figuerres
    6 days ago
    Being passive all the time is not good.
  • Criselda Figuerres
    6 days ago
    After reading this, I've learned that being passive is not always good.
    • Barbara Davis
      2 days ago
      I'm glad I could put some perspective to this
  • 6 days ago
    Barbara, I empathize with you although my circumstances were different. At age 13 I was wooed and then molested by our parish priest multiple times. I did tell my mother and stepdad, and at first they didn't believe me, but eventually spoke to the diocese. But my sense of right, wrong, being with girls or men was conflicted, leading to many risky behaviors. I was jailed in the Youth House two weeks and taunted for such behavior, which only increased my loose sexual morals. It wasn't until my high school senior year that it began to resolve when I found ...my soulmate, Janet, also my best friend and confidant.
    Silence prolonged my conflicted state at the time, and thank goodness now professional counselors exist.
    Thank you for openly sharing.
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    • Barbara Davis
      2 days ago
      Thank you for sharing.
  • Barbra Levine Pakravan
    6 days ago
    Your story, courageously shared, is yet another evidence of the truth that we heal through trusted healing relationships. Though not molested, I had to go through a similar path of healing from my childhood, and I found how that happened through forming attuned connections with two very trusted angels in my life. At the start of that journey came a book that really set the stage for understanding for me: It's Not Your Fault: How Healing Relationships Can Change Your Brain and Help You Overcome a Painful Past, by Baha'i psychologist, Patricia Romano McGraw.
    I'm very ...happy to have read your article and I posted it on FB.
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    • Barbara Davis
      2 days ago
      Thank you Patricia
  • Sharon Makhmour
    6 days ago
    Oh sweetheart I am so sorry You endured so much. You have not only echoed the reality of your feelings but spoken eloquently and in depth of it all. I hear you. I understand. You have most certainly healed. Our approach is what has defined us. It's justice by our definition for our self preservation and sustainability. Thank God we recognized Bahaullah in time. I believe Bahaullah was with us From the very beginnings. We were supposed to serve a greater purpose. To Our self. For Our self. The rest is history. That is justice well ...served. I am so thankful we have crossed paths. Know that I have always admired your strength and courage from day one. Know that I have always loved you as a spiritual sister. Allahuabha sweet Barbara.
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    • Barbara Davis
      2 days ago
      Thank you Sharon! My soul sister
  • Melanie Black
    6 days ago
    I am very grateful to you for this article.
    • Barbara Davis
      6 days ago
      Thank you Melanie! I feel its important to share the insights we find with others so we can all grow.
  • Hari Tapatahi
    6 days ago
    #MeToo