As Oprah said, “Speaking your truth is the most powerful weapon we have.” It’s probably the best “weapon” there is to fight injustice, inequality and prejudice. Telling it like it is may not go down well with a lot of people who are invested in the status quo, nor should it go down well. I recall a conversation around 1986 when a young teacher came into my office and said she had something she thought I should know but before she told me, she said she wanted to preface it with what her Father had taught her as a young child, she being a birthright Quaker. It was this: “Speak truth to power.” That set the stage for me to listen and listen well. That saying is attributed to the Quakers as an alternative to violence in a pamphlet in the 1950’s. It is also attributed to Bayard Rustin as early as 1942. Rustin was a key adviser to MLK, Jr. and a civil rights activist instrumental in the March on Washington in 1963.
If the emperor has no clothes on it’s critical that we are able to stand up, speak up and point it out to others who may be playing along with what the majority might be saying about how fine he looks. If that’s garbage, don’t be afraid to say so. Peeling away the layers of self-interest, self-protection and bias that many people have developed over many years is seldom accomplished with one simple statement that begins with, “The truth is….”
For six years, I entered a doorway of a school above which was engraved in stone, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” I actually grew up believing that and trying to point it out to others over many years.
I think often of Edmund Burke’s quote that Abraham Lincoln used, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” And one of my favorites from Elie Wiesel is “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.” In other words we must speak up and speak out against oppression whenever and wherever we see it.
This is why the recent “Times up” and “Me Too” movement has gained such traction because it is based on telling it like it is and being willing to do something about behavior or language that is abusive, wrong and hurtful. The moral arc of history may be long but it bends toward justice is how Martin Luther King, Jr. put it. Perhaps the time is finally here when good people who have been silent for too long are now willing to come together and work for the common good, with a common vision and common goals.
That, my friends, is a community of the committed. We can work on behalf of those who have previously been silent whether because of fear due to their gender, race, religion, ethnicity or any other social identification. We can make sure they have a voice and a place at the table.
We can begin by being honest about that which has kept people down or “in their place” for far too long. What has kept people down or silent are those people in positions of power who have abused their power and who are at their worst, despotic tyrants. Even among those who are less violent, their sinister, selfish behavior aimed at controlling others needs to be called out and stopped.
Look at how control is used and mis-used in the political arena at every level, in the corporate and business world, in the professional ranks and in our cities, towns and villages where people live out their everyday lives. Time’s up for exploiting others. It’s time for us to move toward a more egalitarian society where people are free to express themselves without fear of retribution. What a novel idea, perhaps expressed best right here.
I end where we began: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”