Friday, August 14, 2020

Speaking Truth in an Upside Down World

What happens when the world you work in feels upside down? It leads me to wonder the best ways to speak your truth without having to give up your career.

Recently, I’ve been struggling with how best to be authentic, and vocal in my beliefs without scaring people off. I want to engage with others, not frighten them, but most people do not appreciate being told anything that may challenge their thoughts or actions. Finding that fine line between standing up for your principles and silently accepting micro-aggression is a line that is much less distinct than I had once thought.

Until recently, I had thought the line was quite distinct. You are either with me or you’re against me. But when I approached members of a performing arts organization I was collaborating with about a culturally offensive action the group was taking, I expected the response from others to be embarrassment and an immediate rectification. You can imagine my lack of surprise when my feelings were questioned instead. My point of view did not appear to be as important as the dramatic intention of the scene.

In response I pointed out all the ways in which the offensive behaviour was unnecessary and irrelevant to the production, and that even with some minor adjustments it was offensive.

What I felt in that moment was the reality of choice. Become the martyr that abandons the production on principle, or allow for a moment of interaction, a chance for those not affected to reflect and react. I decided to do the latter. If I had left, the group would be free to do as they pleased and cast me off as intolerable. I realized that creating a scene and making a spectacle of myself would serve no other interest than to make myself feel better.

In choosing to stay, my presence is a physical reminder that someone is paying close attention, that no action goes unnoticed, and whether consciously or not, any future actions will either be coloured by this experience, or be checked. At this point I should mention that the scene was altered and the offensive material addressed and dealt with. In the end I don’t regret my choice, it’s a long-term change that I am choosing facilitate with positivity and support, instead of public belittling and shaming. By no means do I condone or support or mean to defend these types of actions, I’m just trying to understand how best to create change from within.

Not every situation fits this response, or warrants this response, to be frank. Sometimes people are evil, irreproachable, full of entitled ignorance, and their actions are malicious. In those circumstances a different sort of rage will take over. When dealing with people who may be sensitive to the needs of others, or, as sensitive as they can be given their perspective of privilege, I wonder if a more humane approach can work. Perhaps in these circumstances education and patience can be effective forces for change.

If that doesn’t work, let them come crashing down. That’s where I’ll be waiting.

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