Personality Development: When did you not speak up and why?

Authored by Purnima Toolsidass, Calcutta

All of us, regardless of how old we are, or how brave we are, have experienced regret from not having spoken up when we had an opinion to give. So, there is nothing very unusual about it, but it is a fact that we can avoid feeling guilty or ashamed - and also do quite a lot of good - if we analyze what stops us from speaking up, and how we can overcome the factors that make us hesitate to speak up.

One common reason is diffidence. As a child, I was not sure that what I felt was right, and I didn't want to make a fool of myself and be rebuked or laughed at. Another reason was that I felt afraid of the repercussions of going against the power of the person who was saying or doing something I felt was not quite right. Sometimes, this was a friend who would have felt let down if I had spoken against her. At times, it was a teacher or a parent, or a friend's parent and the teaching we get from a very small age - not to argue with those who know better! - made me keep quiet. The reason that really bothered me and which I was reluctant to admit even to myself, was that people would laugh at me, and think me to be silly. They would no longer want me in their group and I would become isolated and miserable. I felt I was being cowardly and despised myself for it, but still I could not find the courage to overcome my fear enough to speak up.

Later, as I grew older and more self-confident, I wondered whether it would have made a difference had I spoken up. This was my mind playing tricks to assuage my conscience. I know how hurt I've been when someone I trusted as a friend kept silent when injustice was done to me, and I have to admit that my friend would have felt equally let down when I didn't speak up for her or him.

And, why only a friend? There were times when I should have told my father that he was being unfair to my mother, sister, or brother. There were times when I should have told my mother that she was too harsh with my sibling or that she was quarreling with my dad for something he could not help - like not giving her more money for a new sari. But I didn't. Oh, I admit that I made plausible excuses for myself - maybe some of them were even true - like things would have worsened had I interfered, etc. But these are excuses and I can admit it because they are in the past.

Yet, the question remains, have I learnt to speak up against wrong even today? Is it timidity that keeps me silent when an auto driver is rude to a senior citizen who is irritatingly slow in making his payment and getting off the vehicle? I feel sorry for the elderly person, or the woman who has a small child and his bags to manage, but I also feel sorry for the auto driver who probably has to get as much income as he can, to pay off his dues and feed his children. Torn between the two thoughts, I watch silently wishing the world was not so full of poverty and suffering. These make us callous and cruel, and deprive us of the kindness and gentleness that could have made us happier and healthier, and better able to make a better living.

However this may be, I am glad to say that I do speak up when I see an animal ill-treated, and I have managed to learn the trick of doing this without arousing antagonism that would have made the perpetrator of cruelty take out its anger on another vulnerable creature later on. The method I've found works best is to say, 'Why are you doing this? It's just a poor hungry animal who can't understand what you are angry about?' Sometimes I say, 'Cool down; getting angry is not good for your heart (if it's an old man). Whipping the pony will only make it more stubborn. Wait five minutes and try again, more gently, I'm sure you'll get a better response.' If it's a child, I say, 'People will think you are a bully if you do that!' And I never miss a chance to praise someone who is kind to an animal, because kindness and compassion need to be encouraged, if we are ever to have the kind of society that brings happiness and safety. This I learnt when I spoke up for a dog that was kicked and the angry man kicked the dog again because he felt offended at my criticism!

I can't tell you how good I feel when I do speak up for what I feel is right. And, every time I do this, I go up in my own opinion and feel so satisfied that a dozen ice creams are nothing to compare to it!

© Arked Infotech 2017

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