I am finding myself torn lately between diplomacy and advocacy. I have always been more likely to lean toward diplomacy and it has served me well for the most part. There was certainly a time in my life when it went further than diplomacy and would be better labeled conformity, but that is a position that I’ve left far behind and won’t be focusing on today. No, today I want to talk about when to speak up, when to stand down and how to find balance between the two.
As I already said, diplomacy is my default. I’d rather get along than argue (with most people; some are more fun to argue with) and usually don’t stick my neck out. This is not to say that I will blindly agree but instead that I have always tried to find a way to either agree to disagree or surround my disagreement with things which I do agree with. Trying to find common ground and explain my position from there has always been my preference. But lately I haven’t been very diplomatic.
This change came about for a few reasons but one of the most prominent was a book I read about some long-term sociological studies which suggested that a certain demographic could be swayed by learning that the majority of people are accepting of a behavior. (Importantly this demographic happened to be one of the most bigoted toward minority, women’s, LGBT and children’s rights)For example someone in this particular demographic who strongly opposes gay marriage might move closer to a neutral position (neither supporting nor opposing) when faced with data that suggests the majority of Americans support gay marriage. They will not be swayed to all out support but the idea that most people see this as normal behavior will sway them to at least stop resisting so much. This information had a PROFOUND impact on the way I interact with people, particularly with someone whom I disagree about something. I began to think that I have a responsibility to normalize all of the things I believe are unfairly depicted as wrong in our society- everything from music, television and clothes to marriage equality. I was speaking UP when I disagreed with someone because I wanted these choices normalized dammit! And it felt great… at first.
After a while I realized that I was becoming increasingly angry at the smallest perceived injustice or annoyance. I was also losing my ability to disagree with any sense of grace. I was speaking out so often and on so many issues that my fuse was short so diplomacy was flying out the window. I know that I probably hurt some feelings, rubbed some people the wrong way and caused a few people to tune me out and not hear my argument at all. So, back to diplomacy… right?
But wait- what about that sociological study? Isn’t silence acceptance and aren’t I contributing to the problem when I don’t speak up? This seems to go deeper than picking my battles- it seems to also be about how those battles will be fought once they are chosen. It seems the answer is different for some issues and the fact there is no single correct answer makes it even harder. I will never allow someone to make homophobic, racist or sexist remarks without challenging their misconceptions. But what is the best way to challenge these ideas? And then what about misconceptions about education, religion or modern media? Do I also need to challenge these? Probably not as vehemently as the others- but then when and how SHOULD these ideas be challenged? Is it dishonest not to speak up? Or is silence better when you know there is little possibility to change the other person’s opinion? On the flip-side, is silence acceptance? Where is the line between respecting another person’s beliefs/opinions and betraying your own?
I have far more questions than answers today.