Until 1920, with the passage of the 19th Amendment, women did not have the right to vote in the United States. Until 1954, it was still legal to separate black and white children in public schools. An entire race carved out, dressed in a “badge of inferiority” as recent as 60 years ago.
These obvious injustices sound almost unbelievable to us today. How on earth was institutionalized discrimination tolerated and even supported by mainstream society? What changed? What propelled us forward?
Civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."
I would suggest that the arc only bends toward justice, when reasonable voices are heard out in the wide open. It takes outspoken advocates to turn the tide of human opinion. Muttering in cloistered conversations with like-minded friends won’t turn the creaky crank of moral progress.
In the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."
Speaking out about your convictions can change the world, and there are implications on the smaller stage of your daily life as well. Expressing your closely held beliefs is the best way I know to connect with your own tribe of family, friends, colleagues and neighbors in an authentic way.
But it’s not easy. Thankfully for most of us in America, expressing our views doesn't place us in physical danger, but there is still an emotional risk. Sharing requires vulnerability. You open yourself up to being judged and misunderstood or rejected. Perhaps that’s why many of us shy away from saying what we really believe. Life is hard enough to navigate without adding more stress, and the pressure to fit in is strong. We naturally want to be popular and well liked, so we work to be easygoing and congenial.
The Japanese are famous for their polite society. They have a saying: "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down." That may be true, but if we don’t risk standing up for what we believe in, we won’t ever connect with our true friends.
By not vocalizing our opinions, we are missing out on something vitally important: authenticity. If you don’t share your true feelings and beliefs with your friends, how can you call those relationships friendships? You're just polite passengers on the same train car who happen to be sharing this time and place, but not much more.
Life is a team sport. The trick is to find the right people to be on your team and share your journey. It takes time and effort to find people who understand and love you for who you are. Along the way, you will meet many people who don’t quite fit this description. You can waste a lot of time trying to fit in with them, but remember that quality trumps quantity. One true friend is worth more than dozens of people who don’t know and appreciate you for who you are. Depth is where it's at.
The best way I know to build a solid foundation in any relationship is to take the emotional risk of sharing who you are. It becomes a self-selecting process: your true friends will be the people who respect you for taking the risk and understand that you are honoring them with your trust. You may lose some friends in the process, but you will gain others. In the end you will be surrounded by those who value the real you and whose true selves you can know and value in return.
The Greeks have a proverb that I like very much: "[The person] who is no longer a friend was never a friend at all.
Sharing who you are with others is actually an ongoing process that involves both speaking from your heart and listening from your heart. Here are a few ideas for how to begin:
First, Do Your Homework
Often, the barrier to expressing our views is our own lack of understanding. We haven’t taken the time to consider all sides of an issue and to form a reasoned opinion. So do your homework first.
Once you have considered a matter, speak up slowly. Start with a trusted audience, such as close friends or family. As you do, strike a balance of curiosity and conviction. Remember, bad ideas can happen to good people.
Next, I Encourage You to Listen First
Listening to others’ views is perhaps more essential to the process of knowing yourself than sharing your own opinions.
Let go of the feeling that you are “right” and they are “wrong.” Free yourself from the burden of “winning.” It’s easy to fall back into an attitude of “they just don’t get it”, but that is lazy and safe. Your goal should be to understand the other person’s position so well you can advocate for it. Of course that doesn’t mean you agree with them; it means you understand their viewpoint thoroughly. Shift your goal from the preservation of your ideas to the pursuit of truth.
And then, Reflect and Revise
This may be shocking, but you -- yes, you! -- may be the custodian of bad ideas. Mistaken notions is not a phenomenon affecting only other people. Be open to new evidence and know it’s okay and even admirable to change your mind for the right reasons.
In the end, sharing our beliefs is our duty as members of humanity. It enables us all to redress wrongs and move toward greater justice and equality while strengthening our battle-tested beliefs. Sharing who you are and what you hold dear is a prerequisite to connecting with a tribe of like-minded and like-hearted people to share your life with. However, in the process of navigating beliefs and opinions, you will come across opposition. Please never forget that in every case you are dealing with another human being who is deserving of your respect, even if their ideas may not.
Portland State University philosophy professor Peter Boghossian recently said, "If you think being smart substitutes for being kind, you're neither."
We must all learn the art of disagreeing without being disagreeable.
Through compassionate honesty, you may find you have to change your views, or even your friends. That is a good thing. It means you are on the path to finding your tribe and knowing who you are.
I only have one ask of you. To please speak up and share who you are. I’d love to get to know the real you and I don’t think I’m alone.