A little over five years ago, I needed to talk to someone, anyone. I needed catharsis to find if the doubts, fears and guilt I faced were mine alone, or I was part of a larger group with similar issues.

And I found myself stonewalled at every step.

No one was ready to listen to me. Every one found sanctuary in an age old cultural and social desire of not discussing any issue that questioned the beliefs and norms – of acquiescing to what is happening – something that is so deeply entrenched in us with years of “teaching.” In plain words, one must accept misfortune in silence in the hope that time will heal wounds.

And that is when I learned about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and realized that given the impure state of affairs in the land of the pure, a very large number of the population was suffering from this disorder as a result of direct or indirect exposure to extremism and its consequences.

A culture of silence or a conspiracy of silence hangs over us. The behavior that a group of people exhibit, ranging from a small number like colleagues, or in professions; and often extending to include larger number – in our case – to maybe the entire nation; whereby by unspoken consensus we do not speak about, mention, discuss, or acknowledge the presence of a given issue or subject in our lives.

Few clicks on the internet search engines, to study the phenomenon that makes people not want to listen and the cultural factors stopping this discourse. And it showed me the reason why psychiatry is such a thriving business in the West!

I was also surprised to find that as far back as 1854 a report on the unrest in Hungary spoke of … a conspiracy without any doubt of silence and watchful expectation.

Only in our case the “watchful expectation” is replaced by a glazed look of forlornness, despair, and a sad acceptance of things not likely to change soon.

What made me sad was that the things that we were delegating to this conspiracy were too fresh to be consigned to the ash heap of history, yet conveniently leaving a memory hole albeit different from Orwell’s 1984, in a deliberate attempt to marginalize life altering situations.

And I found that that in 1974 the German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann discussed a “Spiral of Silence Theory” postulating that individuals fear isolation, neglect, or exclusion from their social group or society for opinion(s) or ideas contrary to popular belief, and this fear leads to their remaining silent instead of voicing their opinions.

At this point in my life my crusade to speak against the culture of silence in our society started; specifically aiming to break the silence surrounding terrorism and extremism around us in an unrelenting pace; affecting thousands directly and over half a million indirectly, not to mention as some studies indicate, the prevalence of PTSD in a large number of Pakistanis.

Stonewalling still goes on. We are expected to accept such things as something that has to happen. Even at the highest echelons the lack of acceptance of this culture of silence as a reality in our society lends credence to those who thrive behind its veil.

This explanation somehow eludes my rationalizing it as a given behavior. Studies shows that in the US, which is an individualistic society, people tend to speak out about things they feel strongly about, regardless of being in the minority. The same study shows that in pluralistic societies like in the East, individuals put more emphasis on collective goals and social harmony, and conform to the majority influence hoping, to avoid tension and conflict.

This seems to be a self-defeating domino effect. Unless of course we have reached a point of acceptance of wrong as the new right.

And as Margaret Mead said, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Is it not about time to change culture? To speak, and be heard, for only then the word will reach ears used to silence, tug at the strings of the brain, to move the heart to believe that the new truth is still the old truth, silence is acceptance, speech is action.

Anyone ready to stand and speak?