Something different has been happening lately. As I’ve become more vocal about my stance on social justice issues such as discrimination on the basis of size and mental health status, I’ve received a lot of “concern trolling.” The concern comes from people I know genuinely love and care for me, but they’re asking me to do something that I cannot do: be silent.
I’ve never been a loud speaker or the obvious leader of a group, but I’ve always had an unwavering moral compass and a strong intuitive sense to stand up for those who are vulnerable in society. I was standing up to the bullies on the playground when I was in second grade (although, I hadn’t yet heard of non-violent communication at that point, so a visit to the principal’s office may have been involved), and I continue to make my voice known (even if quietly) as I make my way through the adult world.
This rubs many people the wrong way – even those who love me. They want me to stay silent so I don’t cause conflict and potentially sacrifice all I have worked for (i.e. reliable employment, parenting status, social class standing, other people’s (mostly) positive opinion of me). I don’t want to lose any of those privileges either, but here’s the thing: having a certain level of privilege means I hold a responsibility to use my privilege for the benefit of others. My heart is not at peace knowing I get certain social rewards and status because I appear one way in society while others cannot get their basic needs met because they are perceived as “less than” in our culture.
On that note, here is my letter to all those who love me and are asking me to stay silent:
Dear Concerned Loved One,
First, I want to say thank you for caring about me. Thank you for your concern, your love and your protection. Thank you for always wanting the best for me. I know your warnings about what I say and who I speak up for come from a good place. I know you have a kind heart and are worried about my well-being and what will happen if I get hurt from being vulnerable. I know that you love me.
I know all of that, and I love you too, which is why I have to say this: asking me to stay silent about issues that are important to me is not loving. It is not supportive. It is not kind. It is asking me to shut down a huge part of myself: the advocate. By asking me to be silent in the face of oppression and discrimination, you are asking me to give up on dreams of breaking down social inequality – and that I simply cannot do.
I understand this may not be your dream for me. I know you wanted something else for my life because you want what you think is best for me. In your mind, having a life without struggle is the ultimate gift because the pain and suffering you’ve been through almost broke you. I’m so sorry you experienced tragedy and hurt. I love that you wish nothing but good things for me.
But this is my life, not yours. I get to live it in the way that feeds my soul, in the way that makes me happy, in the way that makes my time here on this Earth feel important and worthwhile.
I cannot be happy if I’m untrue to myself. I am a change agent in this world. I cannot sit by silently and watch the world happen without speaking my truth. I was born this way. I am a truth teller. In fact, I incur more pain trying to stay silent – trying to be someone I’m not – than I do if I’m vulnerable and get hurt. I know you don’t want to see me in pain, but what is worse: the pain of not being myself or the pain of being judged negatively by some for being authentically me?
If you truly want me to be happy, then you will let me fulfill my duties as a social justice advocate — as someone who fights for the oppressed and seeks an end to discrimination. I know you don’t believe change is possible. I know you think I’m fighting a losing battle. That’s OK. That’s how all major change begins – after all, if everyone agreed with me, then change would have already occurred.
So, what can you do? I’m glad you asked. I’d like for everyone I love to have the same passion about the issues I find important, but I’m not naïve. I know we all have our individual convictions. I don’t expect you to agree with me on everything, but I do expect you to support me. You can encourage me when the going gets tough, reassure me when I get my feelings hurt, coach me when I ask for your input, and most important, never ask me to give up on my dream of ending oppression. I’m aware I can’t do it alone and that discrimination is likely to exist for as long as humankind does, but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying whenever and however I can to make this world a better place.
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