Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” ~ Maggie Kuhn
I’ve been formulating this essay in my mind for a few weeks now. How very apt that a facebook memory from two years ago should resurface this morning; perhaps as a harbinger to say the thing that must be said.
Parents, teachers, leaders: This is the part where we move from subtle, child-directed conversations on kindness, justice and compassion to intentional, focused instruction on what it looks like to stand up, to have courage, to live with integrity. #notgoingwiththeflow #raisingupadifferentgeneration #makinggoodunderpressure #actjustlylovemercywalkhumbly” (November 9, 2016)
I am not a debater. Though I hold strong beliefs and do not mince words when called upon, you will never find me on a soap box in Hyde Park. Nor will you find me entertained by the person on the soap box, holding court in Speakers’ Corner. I do not enjoy debate, where one party attempts, by any means, to convince the other of his or her perceived correct thought. No thank you. Being talked at is a massive turn off for me.
What I love is honest conversation. Thoughtful dialogue. A balance of listening and speaking.
Because of my abhorrence for hot-headed debate, my tendency has been to physically leave the space or to go radio silent when people begin expostulating on their latest issues-based rhetoric. While I’ll talk easily about my thoughts and interpretations in secure spaces and in the context of relationship, I’ve found it easier to fly under the radar on certain inflammatory topics.
(Side note: If you know me personally, you’re probably thinking “Sheesh, that was you mincing words?!” Ha. Yup. There’s a lot more in there than I let out, friends. I would terrify you if I said all. of. the. things.)
I’m not saying that I don’t speak up. Because I definitely do. Just not in an argumentative, platform, “I WILL convince you” manner. It’s more in a sharing my heart kind of way.
Though people perceive me to be honest, which I am, it’s arguably as true that I’ve often played the role of “maverick.” I can belong in a space without necessarily adhering to every tenet held by the larger group. In my heart, I can say “yes to that, yes to that…and NO WAY to that.” Typically, I’ve been able to preserve my integrity while holding in tension the parts with which I don’t agree.
But at what point is it no longer okay to be quiet? When do we drift over the line from quietly respectful to bystander?
I am a teacher. I spend most of my days with young people. So the words bully, victim and bystander are common vernacular for me. Only one of those three roles is innocent. When we stand back and withhold our opinion, saying “this doesn’t affect me” or “this is none of my business,” we align ourselves with the bully. If we don’t speak up on behalf of the victim, we are, by default, supporting the antagonist.
This word, bystander, has become more and more of a thorn in my side of late. It’s become uncomfortable. It’s become personal. Because I’ve realized that, in omission—staying silent, opting out, carefully controlling my tongue—I’ve been contributing to the problem.
Sometimes maturity is being quiet. Sometimes maturity is speaking up.
Taking a stand requires a level of courage that most of us don’t feel we embody. We are highly aware that it will cost us something. But the beautiful thing about courage is that it doesn’t mean we are fearless. It means we acknowledge the fear and proceed regardless.
In my family, I’ve taught my children to respectfully advocate for themselves when necessary and to watch for those who need their help. No, they are not perfect kids. They are passionate and opinionated and spazzy. (It’s the strangest thing—I, honestly, cannot imagine where these traits came from!). They are real, mostly kind, but sometimes unkind, breathtaking, imperfect humans. And over and over, I have been immensely proud when they have extended kindness to fringe people and have stuck up for those who weren’t able to advocate for themselves.
The part we sometimes forget, however, is that doing this—using our voices for others, sticking up for people, speaking truth—will usually cost us something. My kids have learned the hard way that if you tell a bunch of boys in your phys ed class to stop calling another female student “whale,” they will likely turn that venom toward you and you’ll now be teased incessantly. Or if you call out the ones who have re-named a bigger boy in an orange t-shirt “pumpkin,” they’ll turn that rage toward you and make your life hell. It’s so hard, but it’s still the right thing.
Interspersed amidst the past couple of years, I’ve experienced themes during times of prayer, in conversation, and within my own intensive thought life that, until recently, I didn’t recognize were linked. It’s always interesting when we turn around and suddenly see how God was preparing us for something; how those seemingly unrelated events and experiences were actually weaving a storyline that now makes sense. Read “Tapestry” for more on the beauty that is often in our wake.
In this current season of realization, I’ve been very aware of what speaking up will cost me. I’ve been weighing it all out. I’ve been moving slowly toward what I believe is right, all the while asking that the cup be taken from me. I will always be willing to walk where I feel God is leading, but I’ve had some definite sadness about parts of it. I’m certain it’s the next right thing, but it’s not without loss.
On one particular morning, as I wrestled again with the positives and negatives of where I am in contrast to where I feel he’s calling me, he reminded me clearly that he doesn’t do bad trades. It’s just the opposite. Oh yeah, God. I forgot that you give beauty for ashes, joy for mourning and a spirit of praise for despair.
Here’s what I am now remembering and relearning: If we are feeling called to action. If we are feeling the weight of a conversation that needs to be had. If we have fire in our bones and can’t NOT say the thing. If something has been cornering us and it’s time to push back. Whatever it is. If God is leading us to do the next right thing, it might not be without consequence, but we can be sure it will be worth it.
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men [and women] do nothing.” ~ Edmund Burke