On Outspokenness

Today, I’ve been exposed to a few things that lead me to think greatly about outspokenness. And reactions to it. Especially when the topic is problems.

People don’t like when you “air dirty laundry,” as they think of it. When you cite problems and insist on fixes. Especially if those people are in positions of power where they have some kind of expected duty to provide the fix, or to be outspoken themselves when they either don’t care that deeply or dread some kind of backlash.

You would think that the more serious the issue, the more eager someone else to set things right. But no. In fact, something very serious can have the most effort to suppress and ignore and silence outspokenness about it. Because people don’t want to think about it. They just want to forget and bury it, even if doing so is toxic and destroys from within.

With any legitimate problem, when initially called out, there seems to first be that effort to forget. To pretend it never existed. Then, if it’s serious enough, things change… temporarily.

By temporarily, I mean doing and saying things that appear to be responding to and addressing those problems without really doing much. People in powerful positions offering a few breadcrumbs of the appearance of sympathy. Maybe rushing to a “quick fix” where they think offering up the most talked about bits will magically make everything instantly okay, and you can go back to Business-As-Usual. You can now forget those awful things, what impact they had, and focus on other things you like and care about more.

… Unless that isn’t “enough” for someone. And that someone feels that what’s been offered wasn’t sincere, or fell short, or most importantly, wants some assurances that there will at least be attempts not to repeat past mistakes. That’s when the people who initially sought to look open and cooperative will become dismissive, and derisive, and attempt to “punish” anyone who’s still outspoken.

The natural – and hoped for – reaction when faced with that kind of reaction is for the outspoken person to feel like they should self-silence and slink into obscurity to avoid being a target. Because the general effort against them is to try to make it look like any further outspokenness is only going to hurt the thing they care about, and themselves too.

But when something is truly wrong, that is not the way. In reality, if you stop speaking out, you’re allowing matters to look like they’re far less important than they really are. The real path forward is to continue, because it’s justified, and necessary. Ostracism, dismissiveness, and sometimes isolation is a test of the seriousness of the issue.

If the issue isn’t worth enduring such things, then obviously a person should not keep going for the possibility of a reward they may never get. But when the issue matters, then being outspoken about it matters.

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