I’m fascinated by what’s happening in one of our major political parties. So many lifelong members are breaking with the party and saying they can’t support its candidate.
What intrigues me is this: Why did they wait so long to speak out? If they’d spoken up during the primaries, perhaps they could have changed the outcome and wound up with a different nominee.
So, what held them back? Why wait until it was too late to make a difference? Perhaps it’s because they’ve been raised to believe that good party members don’t challenge their own party.
There’s something here for all of us to consider, regardless of how we vote or worship or work or raise families.
We all know from experience how speaking up and taking an unpopular stance with our inner circles – our friends, our family, our political party, our business, our religion, our country – is extremely unnerving and risky. Also, extremely necessary.
Challenging our own circles
It’s easy to challenge those who are in another circle – just look at the food fights on social media. There’s no real cost to challenging someone who is in a different circle from us. But it becomes a whole different thing when we do it with those closest to us.
For one thing, we take the risk of getting pushed out of our circle. And that is truly frightening, as it should be. Some people will say we’re sounding like one of them and they’ll start treating us that way. We could lose friends, affiliations and part of our identity.
It’s so much easier just to keep our concerns private and go with the crowd, even when we’re convinced it’s heading off a cliff in some ways. And maybe that’s part of why the world goes off its axis so often. We don’t have enough people courageous enough to try to bring about change from within.
In one of my favorite “Harry Potter” scenes, Neville Longbottom challenges Harry and Ron and Hermione to stop sneaking out of the castle and getting Gryffindor in trouble. At the end of the episode, Professor Dumbledore awards Gryffindor extra points – and the house cup – because of Neville’s actions.
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies,” Dumbledore says, “but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”
It takes great courage
Amen, right? My courage has failed me many, many times when it comes to challenging friends. And yet, I’ve come to appreciate how vital it is.
Every human undertaking gets off track regularly, simply because humans are involved and it’s part of our nature to get sidetracked. And it takes courageous people from within the circle to get things back on track by speaking up.
That’s what keeps us healthy in our relationships, our families, our endeavors.
A recent example is the pedophile scandal in the Catholic church. One of the most shocking things to me was how many members of the clergy at all levels knew what was going on but didn’t speak up and stop it.
Why didn’t these good people stand up? Because other church leaders would have been upset with them and punished them. And because they’d been told that “good” church members don’t challenge their church leaders in any way. They just zip their lips and obey.
Told to pipe down and go along
I’m not picking on Catholics here. There are scandals in all human endeavors, and there’s always people who knew there was something wrong but heeded the warnings to pipe down and go along.
We need people on the inside who have the courage to challenge us, regardless of the consequences. Some people will consider them traitors. Or whistleblowers. Or prophets. And as the saying goes, a prophet is honored everywhere except in their own town and among their own family.
Is it any wonder why we’re all more inclined to nod and go along than raise our hands and ask pointed questions? It involves great risk.
And we haven’t even gotten to the really risky part.
Opening ourselves to challenges, too
If we raise questions about what’s going on in our circle, we also open ourselves to questions about what’s going on inside each of us. And that’s healthy and holy and good.
We’re forced us to think about what we really value, what’s really important, and whether we are committed to our values enough to stand up for them, even within our own circles.
We encourage others to challenge us, too. We start a conversation that could change everything, including us.
And that takes great courage.