The Spiral of Silence

Wayne and Brad explore the cultural phenomenon researchers are calling the “spiral of silence” that demonstrates the truth behind the Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, “The Emperor’s new Clothes”. Simply put, people who want to avoid reprisal or isolation actually go along with the popular opinion around them even when it differs from their own. Instead of objecting, they spiral into silence so that a whole group of people can actually embrace what others want of them rather than risk the negative social judgment of their peers. The research is fascinating and helps explain why religious systems or communities can be caught up in a culture of conformity where everyone seems to agree, rather than making people feel safe especially where they might have questions and disagree.

Podcast Links:
Chuck Colson’s Breakpoint on The Spiral of Silence
Wikipedia on The Spiral of Silence

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19 Responses to “The Spiral of Silence”

  1. David Hanauer says:

    The Spiral of Silence explains our complete media bias &politics voter arena!

  2. Nomad Dave says:

    Wayne said, “My love for you doesn’t depend on you agreeing with me.” I know this to be true about you Wayne. It has been very apparent to me in hearing you on the Friday podcasts, in reading your articles on “Life Stream” and in how you have moderated the “God Journey Forum” with grace, love and freedom. Rain or shine, you have stood firm. Thank you!

  3. Alex says:

    This unwillingness for people to speak their minds goes back to the parable of the sower and the seed. Jesus said that the stony ground received the seed of the Word gladly, but when the heat of the sun came (persecution) they withered for not having root in themselves. I have long marveled at how so many people are quick to change opinions depending on the prevailing winds of public opinion. The internationalists who have lobbied and worked to influence our government policies to benefit corporate profit have lulled even the church to sleep through shows and advertisement to the point that many Christians do not have root in themselves. This is compounded by their accepting what the pulpit tells them, even though most believers read the Bible for themselves. Consequently they disregard what they plainly see the Bible says to fit it into what the pulpiteers are saying.

    Father brought the words of Paul Simon to mind regarding this point. It comes from the song, “The Boxer.”

    “This is the story of a young man whose story is seldom told,
    how he squandered his resistance for a pocketful of mumbles such are promises.
    All lies and jest, and man believes what he wants to believe and disregards the rest.”

    Squandering our resistance is to disregard what our own common sense tells us for promises we want to believe. We naturally disregard and discard the rest that does not fit what we want to believe.

    We need root in our selves so we believe our own sense and convictions.

  4. Eboni says:

    Words cannot describe how grateful I am for your books, website and especially these podcasts. I found the book “He Loves Me” at a time I desperately needed answers. What I read confirmed what I was feeling in my heart all along but was unsure how to articulate. This podcast “The Spiral of silence” spoke volumes to me. I absolutely needed to hear this today. Hearing this has given me the extra boost of encouragement I needed to follow my heart concerning a decision I need to make, but was allowing fear to stop me. I AM NOT CRAZY….. I KNEW IT lol !!!!! I am deciding to no longer second guess myself and live completely loved by Him and let the chips fall where they may.

    I truly thank God for you and will be forever grateful for the revelations and comfort I have received through living in the fathers love.

  5. kent says:

    NO ONE LIVES HIS LIFE ~~~ Rilke

    Disguised since childhood,
    haphazardly assembled,
    from voices and fears and little pleasures,

    we come of age as masks.
    Our true face never speaks.

    Somewhere there must be storehouses
    where all these lives are laid away
    like suits of armor or old carriages
    or clothes hanging limply on the walls.

    Maybe all paths lead there,
    to the repository of unlived things.

  6. Pat Pope says:

    Basically, to break the spiral of silence, you need to love truth more than your image or being ostracized, etc. In the end, those who are your true friends will respect you even if they don’t agree with your point. If you do end up isolated, God will vindicate you and I would rather be approved by Him than by man. And believe me, I’ve stood alone, so I speak from experience.

    I think some people make relationships/community, etc. an idol to the extent that it gets in the way of doing what’s right. I believe Jesus had something to say about forsaking all, but somehow we don’t equate that with real consequences. Let’s not forget, Jesus was rejected for speaking the truth, so why do we expect anything less for ourselves? Once I realized that, I had peace.

  7. Daniel says:

    Perhaps a culture of authenticity and honesty and acceptance helps us discover reality together and not simply rely on our own perception as being reality.

  8. Mitch says:

    Hence, the whole workings of the Spirit within navigate the individual towards insulated isolation. Here, one can make truthful observations. The security of Father’s love allows the gewy center to come out and play! Insulated from the influence of the judgments of the outside world.

    Hearing what the Spirit is saying to the Body bears witness with truth which has always been in the heart. This may be more of the reason listeners say, ” I’ve always known that.” Confidence and security grows knowing Father has always loved.

    For most of my life, I have had this inate ability to just speak from the vantage point of observation as seeing each as equal. (And sometimes, one does learn when to apply and when not to apply.) As a teen, I got caught up in the group approval thing for a short while. My sixth grade teacher saw me acting up as I waited for the bus one day. In short, he leaned over and spoke something like, ” Your not acting like the young man I’ve always known.”

    Though I heard it, and it cut me to the core, I acted as though I had not. It hurt my pride. And later in life, I shared this with him before he passed, and let him know that statement helped me more than anything anyone ever said. He meant it in compassion, even in his dsiappointment, he saw a potential in the path of insulated isloation.

    Perhaps the statement of being thick skinned can be surmized in being insulated and isolated.

    Glad to hear the Packers coach philosophy is real! Wayne, next time breath in a bag and call Mike McCarty before you get sucked in by the media’s biased opion of such a tyrantical footbal giant from the past. lol

  9. Dwight P says:

    Wayne/Brad- good food for thought once again. I love these studies that reveal something about the human condition that is not commonsense and makes you pause. Hmmm, wonder how often I do this?

    Two quick comments – first, is your comment about controlling your kids until their 18 and then they blast off finally free. Yup, unfortunately that was my experience. In the name of wanting to protect and help my kids get a good start in life, I controlled and managed their lives. In the end, they break free and want to taste the forbidden fruit I wouldn’t let them see or touch. Would like a do-over on raising kids. But I appreciated your comment on Gods heart for them.

    Second, I think the need to be connected and included is much deeper and more pronounced than we understand. I don’t think it is simply an security like I want to be part of the cool gang. I think it is fundamental to the way we are created and wired. God put something in us that longs for relationships. Relationship with him and then with each other. One of our problems is that we don’t know what to do when we disagree. We get insecure, ostracize, exclude – as if our differences will poison the water. The only thought I have at this point is how can I try and make safe places for people to be real.

  10. Alan Gray says:

    If my silent lack of disagreement with the content of this podcast implicates me, I will at least rest in the assurance that I am in the majority.

  11. Leon Marincowitz says:

    This podacst reminded me of another social theorist I have studied rather closely, Rene Girard. His theory is based on imitation, that people imitate each other far more then we realise. We imitate each others actions, social behaviour but most importantly each other’s desire. Marketing uses this extensively. Products, material goods or anything really increases in value when mediated by a third model. So in this experiment the example of the “authoritative” wine taster provided an interpretation of the awful wine. The people then imitate him, and actually negate their own physical reaction. Yes this is just the spiral of silence, i.e. not wanting to speak up and rock the boat but also the ability to imitate also plays a very important role.

    This is why Jesus is SO IMPORTANT He provides a model of behaviour, that by following him we can relax into Father’s love. In this way we don’t become dependent on the countless human crutches that draw us away from Jesus. Instead by letting him lead, we view money, sex, power (politics), material stuff etc all through his eyes. We are not then dependent on things but on Him and in Him lies freedom from tyrannical desire that is provided by countless models (mediated) around the world.

    I’ve wanted to share this readings for sometime but did not want to bore everyone with it. This podcast seemed to provide the opportunity.

    Unconditional love only comes from experiencing it in Jesus. Only then is it possible to not hold one’s family above Jesus but truly take root in Jesus and speak truth. Hopefully to strangers but but perhaps most importantly to our loved ones who it is most difficult to do so with.

  12. Rosa says:

    This podcast articulated what I’ve lived with for 10+ years working for a Christian mission organisation that took on the personality of its Founder. How many times I cringed at another staff worker being rebuked while they weren’t around to defend themselves, and I said nothing. It only caused me to hide my true self and put more energy into performing – both for approval and to relieve the fear of rejection.
    I often wonder why I stayed so long!?! But maybe it was what was needed so there would be nothing left of me and God could do his healing work, and I’d discover what it means to be loved… really loved!!!!
    Aaaaah… knowing this love, peace and freedom means I now get to love others, especially those whose masks are crumbling and they feel like they’re falling to pieces.

  13. Nomad Dave says:

    @Dwight P, it’s good to see you posting again, even if not on the forum. I’m doing better now and am more able to get out and about for coffee and pondering. Let me know if your schedule is open for a gathering at Rembrandts. If this message is permitted to be posted that is. If not, no worrie, perhaps I’ll be able to visit the downtown gathering in the near future. :)

  14. Fiona says:

    “The Emperor has no clothes’… this story came to life for me for the first time in my life, when the blindfold fell from my eyes regarding what we were being taught in my church. The first card to fall was tithing doctrine–surprisingly easily once I actually looked into the scriptures for myself, instead of just listening to what I was told. Seeing the research you refer to above makes me smile with recognition–it’s so true.

    It was verboten to raise anything that might have been construed as ‘critical’ of our leaders, which included the concept that their teaching might be questionable, or that self interest might play a part. When I spoke of what I’d discovered about tithing in scripture, to my friends at church, I became regarded as rebellious (still amuses me, because I’m anything but, in other circles). But then, at social gatherings outside church, people would draw me aside, and introduce the topic, and ask me to explain my conclusion to their small group of friends who were dealing with the damage that tithing and supporting doctrines can cause. They would whisper, and look from side to side before speaking, even if they were the only people present in the house.

    The only reason I spoke up was that I was so convinced that what we’d been taught as truth was in fact a lie, after so many years, that I couldn’t stay silent. I was in a state of shock, in a way. And horror, and grief… the beginning of a journey out. I think if people still entertain any doubt, if they still don’t trust their own conclusions about scripture when it goes against all they’ve been taught by their leaders, or if they are not convinced God has shown this to them, and that He is very much in the conclusion they have reached, then of course they will stay silent. I was very much like this before, and only God can draw us into this place where we will do an about face and speak up, and pay the price. But I am overjoyed to have paid that price, (a small one compared to that which others pay, for other things) and come into a better place, and that many of my friendships have been preserved in the process, despite us even being dissed from the pulpit (! astonishing)… and others I knew since then have also embarked on different phases of this journey, now. It has been wonderful to be able to listen and be with them in that when there is the opportunity.

  15. Susan says:

    I am seeing that the victim of the spiral of silence is joy. There is no energy left over for joy when everyone is subconsiously positioning for acceptance by others.
    But I’m finding this conversation above my head in a lot of ways. I’m realizing that I am still dealing with a spiral of silence inside myself. I am slowly, make that very slowly, growing in even being able to be honest with myself. There is stuff in my heart that I have so deeply hidden and I think, oh, so risky. But I am constantly amazed at how kind and loving Abba is (and is encouraging me to be) when he coaxes and welcomes my true thoughts to the surface. It seems that he often has to be rather sneaky about it to get around my inner pharisee (evidently not yet fully “ectomied”). I am so grateful for these conversations and the hope that someday I will see this pattern fully broken inside and be able to fully apply it to my wonderful adult kids and others around me.

  16. Alan Gray says:

    Sounds like the story of Eve and Satan in the bible. If our “inner Eve” would simply stop, remember what is true and wait for ~or~ speak ~or~ move toward, that, we could each leave this foolishness behind. In addition, having the confidence to wait, speak or move with the truth we already know, it would give us more confidence and alternately encourage our beguilers toward the truth as well or, expose them as the deceivers they have become.

    A powerful truth that anyone here who has had the courage to refute and withstand the powers of religious persuasion has, is the power to halt. To stop at any notion that suddenly doesn’t sound like truth. If pushed, a simple “wait” is always the appropriate reply. If pushed for a reason, “I will get back to you in an hour (or a day – or whatever)” should suffice.

    God’s grace is a bit of sunshine that lights, warms and empowers us to be what is true, without it, we may do “good” (or evil) but it won’t be true. When it moves, we need to find it again and move to where it has moved. If we feel compelled to act or respond or feel uneasy with a suggestion or situation, the only appropriate response is to stop before we simply make things worse and more difficult to unravel later.

    You always have enough time, don’t rush this redemption, it’s not in your hands, feel God’s grace and follow it, otherwise, stop, look around and find it, or just wait for it to return.

    Ignore this talk of a spiral now that it has been exposed. Move on – keep going – leave it behind. Let the dead bury their dead but don’t let them bury you.

  17. Lynn says:

    I am a big advocate for honesty. But safety is a big component in providing a space for honesty. I believe, there is a time and place for raw honesty. And love and edification needs to be a component behind people’s intentions. You have people in the church who say they are speaking truth and/or say they they have heard God’s voice in a certain matter that is not edifying and will only serve to tear the person they believe they have a word for, down, especially if it’s at a bad moment in the person who is receiving the “words” life. So it comes across harsh and critical.
    I recently began having marital problems and turned to a friend for simply a place to stay for the evening. My heart was raw at the time, I was already filled with shame concerning everything I had done wrong in my marriage. No one could tell me anything I didn’t already know. I began to open up, and before long I started to hear from them a list of inadequacies, where they believed I had fallen short in my marriage. I could already list every shortcoming or thing that had caused me to come to this point in my marriage, but they felt they had to offer their truth, which simply poured salt on a very open wound. I know she was simply trying to help. And she did say some positive things. But there are moments in a person’s life where a community can choose to stand up and walk beside a person in crisis, without condemnation, and leave the “fixing” to Christ.

  18. ernest says:

    enjoyed very much the podcast, as i listened i thought is this where Father wants me ( the group i may be in ) then i cooperate with what Father wants and do not to react to rejection and soon others come up to me and comment on the liberty i enjoy and want to know why i am not hurt by others rejection, and a great opportunity to share my identity in Christ arrives

  19. AnonyMom says:

    Hey guys

    I’ve been listening to you for a while. I actually play the podcasts as I commute back and forth to work (which, when the traffic sucks, can be over an hour!) This podcast rang really true for me. I’m a chaplain and I find that this “spiral of silence” happens over and over again in families, in business connections, in churches (Boy howdy! does it ever!!)

    Being the extrovert, stick my foot in it kinda person that I am, I am frequently the first person to suggest that we deal with an issue. Except that, of course, many times no one else has the intestinal fortitude to deal with it openly and honestly.

    I think that this is why gossip is so prevalent. We seem to choose the under-the-table communication methods because then we don’t have to say it directly. Or we talk “around” it, using that passive-aggressive method of “hint and hope” that someone “gets it.” But whispers in the wind don’t fix the problem. Neither does the old stand-by, cutting out a “Dear Abby” column and leaving it on someone’s desk. :)

    No, it’s much harder to be loving, gentle and direct about a problem. Yet that is what God asks. I’ve taken to speaking directly to a family member I’m helping (as a chaplain) — and they are at first shocked. And then they are relieved. Someone has FINALLY helped them name the problem. From there, it’s a bit of work, but freedom does happen, by little dribs and drabs. And I think Abba is pleased when we help someone else lay it down and move on, unencumbered.

    So I’m joining you in flinging freedom…

    peace on ya
    AnonyMom

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