I can’t count the number of times that I have been angry with myself after failing to stand up for my beliefs. I oftentimes stand quietly by as I hear someone make an offensive joke, read a disrespectful comment under an online article, or witness an oppressive point in a class discussion. Despite my indignance, I don’t speak up, for one of many possible reasons. Sometimes I am scared of the inevitable backlash. Other times I just don’t have the energy for an argument, and occasionally, I feel that my intervening will not accomplish anything. Later, I regret my silence. I become frustrated with my own lack of courage and feel like a bad social justice advocate.
Despite these negative feelings, staying silent is not always a bad idea. Activism and social justice do not always have to be direct or confrontational. Although some politically-charged conversations are and can be borderline aggressive, they do not always need to be. Confrontations can be stressful and are not always productive: there are other ways to spread awareness with less conflict involved.
Confronting someone about an offensive comment or action can induce much stress. Sometimes when coming across something I find offensive, especially when in large groups of people, I would rather ignore the incident, and remove myself if necessary, than disrupt the group. It takes energy and courage to speak up and start discussions. Not everyone has the energy — this requires all the time, and choosing not to speak up does not indicate a lack of courage. It is more important to take care of yourself and give yourself time to relax than it is to call out every single disrespectful comment you come across. Additionally, enlightening others on certain issues is not the job of one person, so you should not put that burden on yourself. It is also not your responsibility to speak up for yourself or on the behalf of others every time, even if it feels that way.
Along with being tiring, calling someone out directly can be unproductive. Direct confrontations can make people become defensive instead of open-minded, and can cause hostility rather than open discourse. A heated political discussion in the comments section of a Facebook post might not be as effective as letting the particular incident slide and bringing up the issue in person instead. Of course, it is possible and ideal to have a conversation immediately following an offensive action, but in the heat of the moment, emotions can run high and comments you make when you’re upset can hinder progress. Sometimes it is best to take a break from the situation and come back later when the issue can be more effectively addressed.
There are others ways to handle situations of disrespectful incidents instead of confronting them immediately after they transpire. Some people don’t address issues well in one-on-one, in-person conversations, which is okay. If you still want to address the issue afterwards, there are other options. You can always write about the issue and how it affects you, and share your writing with others. You can also find well-written articles about the topic and send it to the person who offended you; I often do this because I find they explain certain issues better than I can. Or, if you aren’t sure what to do in a particular situation, you could speak to a third person who you trust and get their opinion.
Refraining from calling someone out or avoiding conflict does not make you weak or lazy, and if done correctly, it could benefit everyone in the long run.
Sarika Rao is a two-year Lower from Andover, Mass.