Sometimes I think that I should just SHUT UP. I think that my opinion, as strong as it feels to me, should not be spoken out loud, voiced for everyone to hear. Sometimes I just tell myself to hold it in, to look away, to shrug it off.
Sometimes, though, I just can’t keep quiet.
When is it appropriate to speak out? Well, maybe when your friend or relation has asked a question, has asked “What do you think?”. Surely, at a moment like that, you should give your opinion.
When should you disagree with someone whom you love and respect? I guess when the topic is safe and benign, its OK to express your opinion. So if someone says, “Should I add basil to this pasta?”, you are probably safe in responding. You will be seen as strong and skilled, but you will still be embraced as a kind and safe companion.
But what do you do when someone you love says something that you find to be truly abhorrent? How do you respond? Should you stay silent when a friend uses a derogatory term for gays, or Muslims, or Asians or blacks or the mentally impaired? What do you do?
I find myself faced with this dilemma more and more these days, as our country struggles to express its discontent and its fears. I find myself suddenly speechless when friends and relations express opinions that I find to be misguided, poorly thought out, untrue, or even dangerous. What am I supposed to do in those moments?
I was raised by a caring, thoughtful, polite set of parents. As the children of immigrants, they understood the need to be respectful and even deferential of public opinion. They did not needlessly rock the boat. This ingrained belief in the importance of civility and kindness is a key part of my character.
As I carefully follow events within my state, my country and the larger world, I am moved to speak out against those ideas that I find to be repressive, prejudiced or simply unkind. I find that my deep seated belief in society’s responsibility to all of its members is pushing me to speak out against beliefs and behaviors that I find to be unacceptable.
Sometimes, a dear friend uses a word that I find to be offensive. I can usually smile and joke and gently point it out. Sometimes, someone in my circle of friends posts a Facebook message, or sends an email, that I find to be misguided or upsetting. I can usually send a note to express my discomfort and then we both let it go. We sort of tacitly agree to disagree.
There are moments when someone says, or writes, something that strikes a deep chord within my soul. Something that is spoken or posted or written sounds a note that simply makes me drop my head and weep. There are ideas out there right now that make me tremble. Ideas that, to me, reveal the sharp teeth and barely sheathed claws of a society that is ready to turn on its members. Some thoughts about how to care for the most vulnerable and helpless members of our community make me hang my head in shame.
When I hear those ideas, what am I supposed to do? When they are covered in a cloth of reason, how can I respond? When they come to me as an expression of good solid Christian beliefs and “family values”, what am I supposed to do? Sometimes I find myself immobilized by my own sense of civility.
I have been reading a lot of history lately. Did you know that in the 1930’s a lot of German intellectuals chose to ignore Hitler and his cronies, saying that to engage them would be to give them legitimacy? Its true. Did you know that in 1775 General Gage of England refused to engage in a media debate with the rebellious Colonists? In both cases, I think you can see how things turned out.
I am committing myself, with what limited power and impact that I have, to voicing what I feel to be the reasonable view. I am committing myself to speaking out when I feel it to be necessary. I hope that I won’t offend you; I do want to be respectful and civil and kind!!! I hope that I won’t lose my temper; I think that a reasoned response is the best response.
But I won’t try to keep myself quiet any more either. I don’t want to be one of those who looks back on the Nazi regime and thinks, “Maybe I should have spoken up.” I don’t want to be the quiet, respectful person in charge, like General Thomas Gage, who has to ask himself, “I wonder if I should have been more outspoken.”