Recently, I was in a situation where I didn’t like how someone was being treated. There were other people with me, and they didn’t like it either. However, none of us spoke up.
Later, as I was reflecting on that moment, I was a little ashamed of myself. I had seen someone placed in a situation that I didn’t agree with, it wasn’t going well for them, and I had remained silent, seemingly not supporting them. That really felt like a failing on my part.
I tried to remove self-judgement. And then I asked myself two questions:
- What would I have said if I had spoken up?
- Why didn’t I speak up?
A couple of stories popped up for me.
For one, I hadn’t wanted to make the situation worse. I had also felt quite annoyed at what was happening, and I didn’t know whether I could speak up respectfully. Finally, in the moment, I had been disappointed in and annoyed with myself. I had previously seen that particular situation as a possibility and had started to take action to try and prevent it. In my opinion, that action had not been enough and so we were in exactly the situation that I had wanted to help avoid.
As I reflected on these stories, I formed the opinion that my concerns in the moment had been valid. In the mood that I was in, it was very possible that I would not have been able to speak up constructively. Had I spoken up, I probably would have started defending and fighting for the individual from anger and shame. Anger that someone could mistreat someone else and shame that I didn’t take action earlier to avoid the situation even happening.
This then led me to wondering what it would take for me to speak up if a similar situation occurred. The answer was simply that I would want to be confident that I could speak up without causing further damage.
Great. So what did speaking up actually mean to me?
Something that occurred to me was that, in the moment, I had looked at speaking up as jumping in to save or defend another human being. In hindsight, that was probably going to involve aggression and passion on my part, because I had seen the situation as wrong.
What if, however, I had thought of the actions required from me as simply changing the direction of the situation, or providing new possibilities for those involved in the situation? What if I hadn’t so much judged it as wrong, but had simply accepted that there were other more constructive possibilities?
All of a sudden, speaking up took on a different meaning. Speaking up could have been making a request to the people involved in the situation to deal with it more privately. Speaking up could have been making an offer to those involved that might help the direction of the situation change. Speaking up did not have to be about me communicating that the situation was wrong. Speaking up could simply be caring that the people involved had more possibilities available to them than they seemed to have in that moment.
This led me to thinking about all of those times that I have not spoken up for fear of hurting people’s feelings, or making a situation worse, or making myself look silly. What was my definition of speaking up in those situations?
What I finally arrived was that speaking up doesn’t have to be about making declarations, or providing opinions, or fighting for a truth. Speaking up can be about making requests and offers to help change the possible realities for a situation. Speaking up could, in my opinion, be incredibly useful.
Points to Ponder…
You are invited to think of a situation where you feel that you haven’t spoken up.
- What would speaking up mean to you in this situation?
- How could you view the situation differently that would help you to speak up?
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