Uncertainty and Silence

In my work with SafeTeen, my role is to offer tools to help youth make decisions that are healthy and right for them. When it comes to sex we talk about how it is not just our bodies that need to be ready, but our hearts and minds as well. Uncertainty in any of these areas at any time is a good sign that you’re not ready.  If someone else is involved, he or she also has to be ready, and the only thing that means yes is yes.  No, I’m not sure, not now, and even silence very simply mean no.

Reading Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber gave me a whole new perspective on these important truths.

Steingraber is an ecologist, and this book is her personal investigation of cancer and the environment, motivated by her own diagnosis and eventual recovery from bladder cancer 30 years earlier. Her book is a compelling.  She looks into the causes of cancer in our everyday environments, our ‘safe places’ made toxic in order to keep our lawns green and our bathrooms clean.

So how is it still legal to produce, sell, purchase and use these products?

Steinberg explains that there are many chemical carcinogens “that remain unidentified, unmonitored, and at large.” This means that there is little known about them and therefore there is “no evidence for harm.”  This in turn is sometimes translated into “the chemical is harmless.” [1]  You can see the fatal flaw.

The thing is, there is evidence for harm.  We see it in our bodies, in the air, and on the earth.  We are uncertain whether our products and practices are safe, yet we wait for statistical proof of harm.

But “how can silence be statistically evaluated?”[2]

Is it plausible that until plant and animal life are flourishing, creation is simply stating ‘no?’


[1] Steingraber, Living Downstream, p. 102.

[2] Steingraber, Living Downstream, p. 86.


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