On Speaking out
Sometimes many of us may incline to “lay low” and perhaps simmer quietly when things are not as we would like them to be. Yes, for a variety of reasons, we may choose not add our opinion to the mix. No matter why, we are withholding from whatever community is involved… and in fact they deserve to hear from us!
Perhaps we think people don’t want to hear from us, perhaps we fear being seen as “wrong,” or as “pushy” if we speak up. We may think that what we have to say is insignificant.
For want of a Nail
When I was young my, my somewhat detail-oriented mother used to quote from a traditional saying:
For want of a nail, the horse-shoe was lost,
For want of the horse-shoe, the horse was lost,
For want of the horse, the rider was lost;
For want of the rider, the battle was lost,
For want of the battle, the war was lost;
For want of the war, the nation was lost.
Obviously she was trying to make the point that small details can matter – probably battling some form of carelessness on my part. Her point was that from small actions, or lack of action, major problems can arise. We see this in the horrible train crash on the west coast this week and in many traffic accidents.
One way in which most of us can “speak out” is in voting. My point is that when it comes to opinion, even to our voting, a great many people discount the value of their contribution although it really could make a difference. They think it is too small to matter, that people don’t want to hear from them, that they will look “pushy.” When election time comes around, many will point to wide differences between the votes received by two opponents in the past as evidence that their vote would have changed nothing. They see their vote as the equivalent of an irrelevant horse-shoe nail.
***Just how wrong they can be was demonstrated in the U.S. last week, and made additionally clear yesterday, after a recount was completed. Very simply, Shelly Simonds beat incumbent David Yancey by one vote, 11,608 to 11,607.***
And for want of one – or possibly two – votes, the party that had had control of a state House of Delegates for 17 years lost that control. Just one vote. Do you suspect that somewhere there are a few people who, through complacency, or laziness, or thinking that their vote would not make a difference, did not vote, are now wishing that they had done so? I wonder how they are feeling right now.
I have deliberately omitted naming the political parties involved, because that not relevant to my point. My point is that what YOU do, your opinion, your actions, matter. They matter not only in politics but in your community, not only in your community, but in every group in which you participate.
As a non-political example… When I was in graduate school, students in one class were assigned to read a specific research paper each week so that we could discuss it in the following seminar. One paper interested me hugely! It presented some issues that I had not encountered before, but that I agreed with very strongly. For some long-forgotten reason I was late for that seminar – really late. When I got there, the discussion of the paper was winding down. I was immediately asked what I thought of it, and why I thought that way. I bubbled over with enthusiasm, and considerable discussion continued, with some of the students becoming equally enthused, although the professor was unusually quiet.
As we ended, some of the students told me that he had started the seminar by strongly criticizing the paper, in which results that were reported ran contrary to his own opinions. Apparently, until I offered my comments, the students had been inclined to go along with his condemnation. Only when I explained what I saw as the paper’s “pluses” did they start to rethink what they had originally heard from the professor so that they looked at both sides of the question. Quite a few of them ended up agreeing with me.
What I learned
From that incident I learned one thing, and I still wonder about another.
What I learned was what I have written about earlier in this blog… One person’s opinion can matter, and can change other people’s minds, provided it is factual and expressed clearly.
For some fairly long periods of my life I had lived in environments where disagreeing about something was rarely welcomed, and did not often lead to any change of opinion by anyone. As a result, I learned to stay quiet (at least unless/until I happened to reach boiling point, which is not usually a constructive way to go about things). The experience in that seminar was one step toward me gaining confidence.
What I wonder…
But… suppose I had arrived at the beginning of the seminar, and had hear the professor’s diatribe against that paper and its author, what then? Would I have disputed his opinion, the opinion of the authority figure who would give me a grade at the end of the semester? I don’t know, but I certainly hope I would have spoken up, regardless of what he thought.
And I hope you will. Not just in politics, but with your point of view. Not with anger, not with name-calling, insults, or hostility, just with calm, and with solidly factual information on which your opinion is based… It is based on solid facts…. Isn’t it?
What we’ve always done
Relative to solid facts, here’s an example that you may have heard before. It concerns the young bride who was cooking a pot-roast for the first time. Her helpful husband told her that his mother always cut off the two ends of the joint before placing it in the pot, so she did, although slightly puzzled. Later she asked his mother about that, and she replied that her mother had taught her how to cook, and that was the right way to prepare pot-roast.
Much later, invited for dinner at her grand-mother-in-law’s home, the young bride happened to be in the kitchen as grandma prepared a pot-roast. Shock! She watch as grandma put the roast into the pot without cutting anything.
Hesitantly, she asked grandma why she did not cut off the ends. She explained why she was asking. Grandma looked puzzled for a moment. Then she smiled,
“Oh,” she said, “yes, that’s right, I did. But eventually I bought a bigger pot and so I don’t have to do that any more.”
In other words, there was (now) no reason to wastefully cut off the ends of the roast, unless the bride’s cooking pot was also too small for the roast. The story is a perfect example of the “we’ve always done in that way” attitude that may stand in the way of progress. No one knows exactly why it is done this way, but it works okay, so why bother to consider a possible improvement? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a motto that can get in the way of a great deal of progress. I have even known it used to shut down suggestions for contingency planning that could be vital in case of some kind of breakdown of a system.
What you know and think matters
If you find a better way, if you know something important that is relevant and based on facts, if you have an opinion on something that affects you or yours… then be proud to speak up. If you think that people are heading in the wrong direction, let them know. Not because you demand that they change their plans. Not because you have the right to control them. Just so that you can gently ensure that they know the facts on which your opinion is based. If they know them, and choose to ignore them, then that is on them, but at least you tried. Not solely (although importantly) as regards voting, but throughout your life and your community, you have the right to share the facts on which you base your opinions. You may make a positive contribution to their decision-making.
Just don’t be offended if they choose to go their own way. That is their right. (And, if they discover later that you were right, be kind – try not to remind them that you told them so.)
*** I wrote this on the day of the finding that the Virginia election was won by one vote. Following that, someone on the losing political party produced a ballot that had been discarded, took it to a panel of three judges (also members of the political party on the losing side), and they agreed that that ballot had been discarded incorrectly and should therefore be counted. Thus, contrary to my mention above, the election ended in a tie, which will later be decided by a coin toss. You may feel that this supports the “my vote doesn’t matter” viewpoint, but I don’t think so. After all, consider how important that one “incorrect/correct” ballot was.