“If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Or: “To be is to be perceived.” – Bishop George Berkeley (1685 – 1753)
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? This question has been debated by philosophers and scientists for nearly 300 years. For those of us in the human services field, an equally compelling question may be: “If a person’s voice is ignored, or shunned, or silenced, or mocked, does her voice make a sound?”
I am neither a scientist nor a philosopher, but from a scientific perspective, many have suggested that the sound of the tree that falls on deaf ears does not exist. This is because sound is vibration, transmitted through the mechanism of a listening device (ear, tape recorder, etc), and the falling of the tree or any other disturbance will produce vibration of the air that can be heard or recorded. If there be no ears to perceive this sound, it is essentially devoid of said sound.
From a philosophical standpoint, the following question is sometimes posed: If a sound is not perceived by others, does it really exist? Along these same lines: Does a “soundless voice”—i.e., one that falls on deaf ears, is ignored, or is misconstrued—really exist? Just as author Ralph Ellison described himself as an “invisible man” in society during Jim Crow times, there continues to be less overt, but persistent, invisibility and voicelessness experienced by those who suffer in silence in society today: The child who is being abused behind closed doors; the woman who is being controlled and physically accosted by her spouse; the person with a disability who is denied a chance at gainful employment; the person on food stamps who gets judged at the store when no one truly knows her individual story, nor wants to know.
If a person’s voice goes unheard, does it exist? If a person is in need of help, living on the fringe of society, who is marginalized, stereotyped, and judged by others who do not know, nor want to know, her story—does this person’s voice exist any more (or any less) than an unknown sound caused by the falling of an unknown tree in an unknown forest?
This blog is designed to try and provide a voice, or perspective, for those people whose voice has rarely been heard. Contributors will include social workers, authors, therapists, teachers, and foster care providers, as well as articles from the “voiceless” themselves—children growing up in abusive homes and in the foster care system; people with mental health issues and physical disabilities trying to maneuver through a challenging system; the poor, the oppressed, and others. Although legislative issues may arise, this blog will not endorse a political party nor a political candidate directly. On occasion, this blog will be critical of some systems, as well as of some individuals—individuals such as social workers, foster parents, and teachers—who do not appear to be showing respect to individuals in need of help. This is not, in any way, to disregard the vast majority of people who work tirelessly for little or no pay to help do their part in supporting children and otherwise voiceless people. And this blog is open to comments from any person, but please keep all comments cordial and respectful.