What a Humane World Looks Like: Speaking Up Anyway

"Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind -- even if your voice shakes." ~ Maggie Kuhn
In Zoe Weil's book, Above All, Be Kind, Ocean Robbins tells a story about his dad, author and activist, John Robbins. In the story, Ocean and his father were walking on the beach when they came upon a mother yelling at and slapping her young child. John turned to Ocean and told him "that even though what the mother was doing was awful, she must be suffering herself in order to be doing such a hurtful thing to her son." John then went on to offer his help to the woman, who at first rebuffed his overture, but then broke down crying and poured out her story. As Ocean said in the story, it's an example of "love in action" and of someone stepping up to say "enough hurting."

It would be wonderful if that's always how the story ended when we spoke up with compassion and an open heart to say "enough hurting." But that's usually not the case. Often, as I know from my own experience -- even when you speak in the kindest, most judgment-free voice, and with only loving intentions -- people will become angry and defensive, and sometimes go on the attack when you speak up to say "enough hurting."  I've had that very thing happen several times, from speaking to a couple who had left their dog in the car on a hot day, to speaking to a man who was hitting and yelling at his dog, to speaking up when neighbors were gossiping hurtfully about  another neighbor. Each time, I found not just my voice, but my whole body shaking, and my speaking up was met with hostility. But I still did it, because who knows what kind of positive seeds it planted? And every now and then I find that when I speak up, I'm met with a more positive result.  I won't pretend that it gets easier each time. But for me, not speaking up means condoning whatever "hurting" is happening.

Many of us really dislike conflict. And speaking up often means putting ourselves squarely into situations of conflict (and sometimes potential danger), even when we step in with kindness and non-judgment. But the simple truth is that the only way we're going to realize a compassionate, just, peaceful world is to speak up and say "enough hurting," even when we're deeply afraid -- even when our voice shakes.

~ Marsha

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