The Silent Treatment: Being “Sent To Coventry”

Rambling post of scrip-scraps, will be added to as time permits and/or reader interest indicates. BTW I have finally at a late age realized that I write because I am a writer whose words might help someone someday, not necessarily because I have an immediate audience. Very liberating to realize this. I may be writing off into empty space for all I know, but someone someday somewhere may be helped (as I have, by the writings of people decades or even centuries or millennia before me), so there you have it.

This post sets out to address a white culture norm (WASP; colonizer culture norm) that I might describe as “morbid aversion to confrontation.” A fellow permie shared about this today. Her original post was limited-audience so I will not share it here. But the posts she referenced are public so I will share snippets of those.

Morbid aversion to confrontation. At all costs. It is a huge topic for me.

To quote from a few of the screenshots of public posts (from Marco Rogers @polotek on Twitter; great stuff, I am now following him). And Laura Bridgewater @knit1write2 on Twitter; great stuff, now following her too). Stand by; some posts are old and I have to just retype from screenshots rather than copy-paste.

• Marco Rogers, 1/25/21: “Did y’all know that a lot of white people don’t have the cultural concept of ‘real talk’? You know where you stop saying the diplomatic thing and tell people what’s really going on. They just don’t have it. You try to have a moment of ‘real talk’ and they freak the fuck out.”

• Laura Bridgewater, 1/25/21: “WASPs never discuss anything directly, but they’ll come at it sideways with a glass knife. Seemingly innocuous phrases are actually put downs, insults, or object lessons. People are left out in the cold with little/no warning. Grudges are epic.”

And my comments:

People are left out in the cold with little/no warning. Grudges are epic.” Totally!! And it’s just one example of how whitey-titey culture is bad for everyone on the whole planet.

So for any of my fellow white people who don’t feel motivated to try to detoxify whitey-titey culture for the sake of the people it has harmed the most (BIPOC), then care about it for your own sake because it harms everything and everyone including our own privileged white selves.

BTW I learned a phrase the other day. It’s from British culture. “Being sent to Coventry.” It means being shunned, shut out, getting the silent treatment with no explanation. I’ve seen WASP families (and WASP-wannabe families, such as immigrants trying to “fit in”) do this for generations. And the consequences ripple outward and downward, like a cold toxic spill, worse than any hot argument or fight I’ve ever been in.

There can be different shades of shunning; it isn’t necessarily total silence. Sometimes the shunner will maintain some minimal interaction with the shun-ee in front of other people (whose opinions count), to preserve appearances. So the shunning flies under the radar to the public eye. But the vibe is unmistakeable to the one being targeted.

Personally as a white person I feel it’s part of my job to fix the damage caused by the culture I was born into. And to reformat or redesign the aspects such as glorifying silence, discouraging confrontation. Not that I’m into confrontation for its own sake of course. But jeez, we have gone way to the other extreme and I’m pretty sure people have died of it. OF it, not just WITH it.


So sad isn’t it. All we can do is try to move forward & make things better for those still living. It is very sad sometimes tho, knowing the relationships & connections so many people missed out on because the imagined reason for the freeze-grudge was more important.

Dysfunctional communication patterns increase the amount of waste and suffering on the planet. By each doing what we can to create open, flexible channels of communication with the people around us, we can make a more just and sustainable world.

In a subsequent post I’ll offer some ways to constructively deal with the silent treatment and its less-obvious variants.

NOTE: Sometimes there are very valid reasons why people cut off communication with someone. None of the above is meant to deny that reality, or to shame anyone who needs to shut down a connection that’s toxic or dangerous.

Further Exploration:

“Coventry” by Rachel Cusk; Granta. “Like coldness the silence advances, making itself known not by presence but by absence, by disturbances of expectation so small that they are registered only half-consciously and instead mount up, so that one only becomes truly aware of it once its progress is complete. It takes patience to send someone to Coventry: it’s not a game for those who require instant satisfaction. If you don’t live with your victim or see them every day, it might be a while before they even notice they’ve been sent there. All the same, there’s no mistaking this for anything less deliberate than punishment. It is the attempt to recover power through withdrawal …”