Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of ‘crackpot’ than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
Trust your own instincts, go inside, follow your heart. Right from the start, go ahead and stand up for what you believe in. As I’ve learned, that’s the path to happiness.
-Lesley Ann Warren
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
What do you do when a friend asks your opinion about something you know for sure runs contrary to his own? Do you take the safe route by lying and telling him something he expects to hear? Or, do you stay true to yourself and tell him what you honestly think and feel regardless of how he might take it? Or, not wanting to tell a lie and risk losing his friendship, do you simply respond with a “no comment” or “I don’t know”?
British novelist J. K. Rowling, author of the best-selling book series and the highest-grossing film series in history, the Harry Potter fantasy series, said, “ It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
I’d go farther than Rowling though and say it takes much more courage and conviction to stand up to our friends than to our enemies. For with our enemies, there’s no pressure to choose our words to avoid hurting their feelings as it is with our friends. Who cares if our words hurt our enemies? We care more about them getting our message, winning the argument and proving our point than anything else.
But with our friends, it is an entirely different game. You’d like to tell the truth but you tend to sugar-coat it which often leads to confusion and misinterpretation, if not an exactly opposite interpretation. I wonder now which is worse: telling a lie or sugar-coating a harsh truth?
During my teaching stint in Borno, Nigeria, I had been friends with a single woman who was persistently wooed by a married man with children but was there without his family. Knowing what she would end up into and believing her claim that she wasn’t interested in him, I advised her to give him an ultimatum so he wouldn’t think she was leading him on. I must suck at reading people because it turned out that she was already having an affair with him. What was worse was she must have told the guy about me and turned him into my worst nightmare. He harassed and threatened me multiple times to the great fear of my sister and friends.
Commenting on the well-paved roads, infrastructures and improvements in Ilocos Norte, a friend once expressed her admiration of the Marcoses, who, according to her, did more good than many of his critics and rivals in politics. I let her finish her comments but made sure that I didn’t leave them unchallenged. I felt a need to say something to make sure the others who were with us at the time would hear a different take on Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and their family whose avarice set all of the corruption and unprecedented lootings of the nation’s wealth (not to mention, human rights abuses) in motion.
I can forgive myself for crossing my friend in that way, as I hope she had forgiven me as well but for me, silence in moments like this one is unforgivable.
Despite my tendency to speak my mind most of the time, however, I recognize when doing so is a futility. For instance, when you know your friend too well and you are absolutely sure nothing you’ll say will change her mind, position or belief, arguing your point with her will be like throwing a ball against the wall – it just bounces back to you in a split second. This, I think, is when holding your thoughts in is a more prudent choice.
Speaking our mind and standing up for our principles, does not always mean verbalizing our thoughts. You’ll be surprised; sometimes the echo of your silence can better penetrate the most stubborn mind and soften the toughest heart.
Maintaining “peace and harmony” in a family, institution, organization or community sometimes means knowing when to keep quiet and letting go. It will be wise to save yourself for more important battles to fight. Sweating the small stuff will only make your life miserable.
In closing, when torn between speaking up and keeping quiet; doing something or doing nothing, I’ve always referred to the Serenity Prayer below by Reinhold Niebuhr. It makes a lot of sense and puts my mind, heart and spirit at ease.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.