Patience Carter. You may recognize the name - she is one of 53 survivors of the Orlando shootings. She read a deeply heart wrenching poem on the survivor’s guilt she felt for having survived. Then a funny (read: absolutely not funny at all) thing happened: conspiracy theorists deemed her a “crisis actor.” After she stood up with the courage to detail the attack and her continued troubles dealing with the post traumatic stress, she was labeled an actor. Carter responded via the classiest instagram post pointing out how the insensitivity of others has only motivated her to “heal even faster, and grow even stronger. The courage exhibited by Carter made me think of the power of our voices, and how often we flat out refuse to use them. By remaining silent, especially in situations dealing with justice, integrity, and the safety of others, we degrade ourselves.
Our power is in our voice, yet many times we fail to use it. Why? Judith E. Glaser, a founding member of the Harvard Coaching Institute, notes the biggest cause to be a fear of rejection. In her Psychology Today article she notes how rejection triggers the same physical response as actual physical pain - rejection literally hurts. A Harvard Business Review article notes some other reasons for not speaking up to be a fear of repercussions, groupthink, a desire to avoid conflict, denial, and an unwillingness to engage in debate. In some cases, I believe complete shock can also leave a person to remain silent. I mean who hasn’t had the “Did she reallly just say that to me?!” moment? Regardless of the reason, not speaking up has a definite cost. Look at Orlando. Look at Flint. Saying nothing can literally amount to the loss of life, and I’m sure the physical pain caused by rejection does not even come close to the pain one’s conscience must feel when others lose their lives over his or her’s refusal to act and speak up.
The cost of remaining silent does not always surmount to the loss of life. Sometimes it boils down to a loss of self. There are countless times where I wish I would have spoken up to someone who said something inappropriate. I’ll share one with you. Before I entered the workforce, I was completely aware of sexual harassment. I was also aware that at some point, I would probably have to deal with sexual harassment, or at the very least, a co-worker giving me unwanted advances and compliments. However, when the time came: I WAS NOT READY. Being asked to discuss my sexual activity? Being asked if I watched Cinemax After Dark? I was unprepared to face these questions - and I shouldn’t have to be. At the time, I couldn’t even formulate a proper response to tell them how inappropriate they were for even asking me these questions, and at work, no less! I just awkwardly laughed, and ignored them.
So, how does one go about responding and speaking out for themselves in situations where it could make things even more uncomfortable if she speaks out?
1. First, and most importantly, don’t worry about being uncomfortable. YOU didn’t make anything weird. The person who said or did something that was totally inappropriate did. It’s now up to you to respond to the situation in a cool, appropriate manner, while still letting him/her know that what they did was totally not cool.
2. Remember: by speaking up, you are elucidating your own power. You are holding on to your sense of self and your self-worth by speaking out against whatever bullshit someone said or did to make you feel awkward. You were given a voice for a reason, and using it right now could really make a difference down the line. Plus, you won’t ever feel any regret for standing up for yourself (or another person) but you will feel regret for remaining silent when you know you should have said something.
3. This one is really important. Always be mindful of how you respond. Saying the right thing in the wrong way could make the situation even more volatile. And whatever you do, remember this principle from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People: “Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.” The second you do that is the second the person shuts out everything else you are saying and begins to justify the bad behavior. Check out this example from the Real World where Jenna totally shuts down anything her roommates have to say because she is constantly being labeled:
The following tips are from the Teaching Tolerance Project (click the link to see the rest!):
4. Plan your response beforehand. You have already been placed in similar situations countless times, maybe you didn’t speak up once, but you’ve promised yourself that you will speak up the next time. Thus, you can make a hypothesis of what types of situations you can expect to be in and plan your responses accordingly. A lot of the times open-ended questions are good responses i.e. “Why do you say that?” or “How did you develop that belief?” or “Why do you think it’s okay to touch a total stranger?” (Well that last one was from me.)
5. Identify the behavior! Sometimes all it takes is pointing out the behavior candidly. If a person says something totally inappropriate, identify that appropriate behavior directly, i.e. “It seems like you are saying/doing X, is that correct?” Make sure to avoid labeling people! Remember Carnegie’s three C’s: don’t Criticize, Condemn, or Complain!
Well, that’s all I have for ya. The next time someone says or does something that makes you feel some type of way, you now have the tools to show them why that just wasn’t cool, without being labeled a douche. Use your voice, it is a powerful tool. History has shown that when people use their voices together, change happens. It only takes one person to speak the truth, and others will follow. For all you know, that one person could be you. So speak up, my friends! You never know whose life could be depending on it!