After my post last week, I received this as a question from a reader (who wishes to be anonymous):
“You talked about speaking your voice, expressing your values, and standing up for what you feel is right. All that is great. But do you ever feel hesitant to speak up because you are tired of the resistance you receive? Is it wrong to choose that comfort over the hope that it may bring a slight change?”
I am going to answer this today.
First of all, I want to thank the reader for asking what many others are thinking every day. I appreciate your candor!
If you know me even a little bit, you know that I always speak my mind. I am known for speaking what others are thinking. So much so that my friends always refer to me as “an outspoken American in an Indian’s body”. Some of them are afraid that I will not be accepted back in my Indian culture which usually prefers keeping quiet over voicing harsh opinions out of respect to others. 😉 You get the point!
That being said, I totally have been in situations where I do not feel comfortable speaking up despite being so frank. There have been times when I keep my opinions to myself because I am just not in the mood to argue to or for a topic. So I totally understand your hesitation.
It is absolutely OK to feel overwhelmed with the anticipation of the resistance your view is going to create – especially if it is radically different. We need more people than ever to think differently right now. You are already ahead of the game here. And if that’s what you feel comfortable with, be happy in doing just that.
But from your question, I suspect that you are not happy there. Just the fact that you are asking, “Is it wrong to feel that way?” tells me that somewhere you do feel the responsibility for contributing even more to make an undesirable situation better.
In that case, here is what will help you in deciding when you speak up and when to keep quiet, and on which topics. Every person and situation is different so you have to decide it for yourself; nobody else can decide that for you. I hope these pointers help.
1. Speak up when you want more clarity
Voicing your opinions, values, and thoughts is not just for the sake of others. It is for your own growth.
Sounds like you really care about the people around you and changing their situation. That sense of responsibility is noble. However, the best way you can make a difference is when you become your best self. Don’t worry about changing the world just yet. Just think about changing yourself to be the best you ought to be. And one sure fire way that leads to discovering yourself, is to boldly accept your values and what matters to you.
And it all starts with communicating your opinions.
Voicing or discussing your opinions has the same benefits as teaching. You learn it the best not while learning but while teaching. When you hear yourself say, “I don’t quite know how to explain this”, what you are really saying is, “I don’t quite know this”. But start putting what you feel into words. You will automatically start thinking more about it deeply, find the aspects you agree and disagree with, and soon achieve the clarity that will benefit you in understanding who you truly are.
2. Speak up when you want to know if you are on the right path
Through discussions with others, you will also find out if what you believe is indeed the right path. When there is only one dominant voice in your head (either yours or somebody else’s), you slowly start becoming so single minded that you lose the openness to tweak your course when needed.
Discussing your points of view with like-minded individuals provides you reassurance that you are not the only one asking the questions, and discussing those with the people that do not agree with you, provides you an opportunity to explore new ideas that may not otherwise come to you. Both are equally essential to your growth, and becoming the best of your true self.
Remember, the discovery of your true nature starts by owning what you believe in at this moment, and becoming the best version of yourself starts by being open to changing what you believe in when a better path presents.
Communicating your values is essential in both of these journeys.
3. Speak up for values you hold close to your heart
There are topics which when come up I cannot help but speak my mind. For example, freedom. I value an individual’s freedom to think and act however they please, so highly in my life that if I see or hear instances where it is not upheld, I instantly jump in. I have to! I just can’t let it slide!
Another one of such values for me is basic respect for other human beings. There was a time when I successfully rallied troops to protest the behavior of a top management leader because he mistreated and disrespected my boss at the time. Outcome? It was the last straw on camel’s back, and this time he was forced to resign.
The point here is that you have to figure out what really bothers you if not done right. Those are the values that mater to you the most. Do not hesitate to speak up for those.
Why? The price is just too high! Not communicating your fundamental values is like putting up a face day in day out, never revealing who you truly are. Can you imagine living the rest of your life in that prison?
You do not have to constantly pick fights over it. But you must show which side you are on by choosing either to permanently walk away from the toxic situation or voice your protest while you are there. Otherwise your life will be miserable, and you will be the one to blame for it.
4. Speak up if there is even the slightest hope of change
This is the situation where your dilemma will be at its peak. You may wonder, “What good will it do if what I say falls on deaf ears?” And you are right.
Some people will indeed be a lost cause. Nothing you say can make a difference in their mind. Forget about such people.
But if there is a person who may understand or adopt your view, or benefit from what you say, or feels inspired and empowered from your courage to stand up for yourself, please, please, please, speak up. You never know how big of a difference a small act can make!
For example, in reference to my last article, I will never, ever go to share my opinion with that rapist. But I will certainly talk to my parents or friends about it.
Finally, Like all things that are easier said than done, it is easy for us to plan ahead but difficult to actually speak our minds when an opportunity presents. If it were easy everybody would have been already doing it.
So speaking your mind is a muscle you have to train. Once you get into the habit of exercising it, you will start making it stronger. Every small win will provide you the confidence to do it again, and go slightly bigger the next time.
Yet, there will always be times when it is neither comfortable nor necessary to voice your opinions. There will be circumstances where the problem is so huge that despite you speaking up, the needle will seem to remain still. But that’s just life. Don’t sweat over what’s not happening, rejoice in the success of what has already happened.
Standing up for yourself is a beautiful thing. It takes courage, yes, but it is the voice that wants to flow most effortlessly through you. It is the voice that needs to be heard. Because each voice is uniquely shaped by the experiences, learning, and pain it has endured.
You must not lose courage to express who you truly are, and what you strongly believe in. The goal is never to change a situation overnight, but to do just a tad bit more than what you are doing at the moment.
…and that my friend, is a liberating process.
Do you have such liberating moments when you really spoke your mind? Or perhaps you have moments when you were happy you did not say a word? Share in the comments how you felt, and if you would do anything differently today?