Sometimes You Just Have to Say Something

March 13, 2010

The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life flow no longer into our souls.
•Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1890 speech, National Woman Suffrage Association

Yesterday I wrote about things it’s probably better not to say in a public forum. Thus you will never read here that I want to k@** anybody. But because I’ve been thinking about things people shouldn’t say, I’ve also been thinking about things I ought to speak up about.

I believe I’m here to speak my truth and that’s all I have to do. I don’t have to make people understand it; I don’t have to make them agree. I just have to speak the truth.
• Anne Wilson Schaef

One of my art exhibits is called “You & Your Big Mouth: Insight and Irreverence from Irrepressible Women,” and it focuses on women’s wisdom that is often lost because those speaking it were not in positions of power and their words were not considered significant. It’s important to me to share their perspectives and to remind the world of their insights. That’s why I developed the exhibit. I also did it to remind myself that I have a heritage that’s been largely invisible in my educational experiences.

Power consists to a large extent in deciding what stories will be told.
• Caroline Heilbrun

There’s another issue in the news that I want to go on record about: the right of someone to attend a prom with whomever she or he pleases. The sort of bigotry that’s now in the news has been around far too long. Whether it is a community holding separate black and white proms or a school district cancelling a dance rather than allow a lesbian couple to attend together, it’s time to say no to this silliness and yes to—not just tolerance, but—acceptance of people’s differences and their right to express the fullness of their human beingness as they live their lives.

There is nothing more innately human than the tendency to transmute what has become customary into what has been divinely ordained.
• Suzanne LaFollette, 1926

Constance McMillen, the student who caused the current brouhaha, was told that she could not bring her girlfriend to the dance, nor could she wear a tuxedo since these controversial actions would cause “distractions to the educational process,” according to the school board (Chris Joyner, “ACLU Sues on Lesbian’s Behalf,” USA Today, March 12, 2010, p. 6A). Their decision seems to have caused a much larger distraction. I do not know why McMillen even had to ask about attending with another young woman. When I was in high school and when I taught high school, many same gender couples and groups attended dances together simply because they wanted to go and didn’t want to go with a date. But maybe she was just tired of pretending to be something she was not. I don’t know.

I’ll have to, as you say, take a stand, do something toward shaking up that system. . .Despair. . .is too easy an out.
• Paulie Marshall, 1976

Here’s what I do know. There are times when it’s best to be silent. There are things it’s better not to say in a public forum. And there are times when you should add your voice to the chorus. Sexual orientation is not a choice for my LGBT friends. It is part of who they were born to be and it is their right as human beings to be who they are. They should not have to remain closeted. They should not have to “not tell.”

It is so much easier sometimes to sit down and be resigned than to rise up and be indignant.
• Nellie L. McClung, 1915

Boris Pasternak, Nobel Prize-winning Russian/Soviet author and poet, said that “in every generation, there has to be some fool who will speak the truth as he [or she!] sees it.” Speak up for the things you believe in. Do not expect everyone to agree with you. But speak your truth.

What is your truth?

Every truth we see is ours to give the world, not to keep for ourselves alone, for in so doing we cheat humanity out of their rights and check our own development.
• Elizabeth Cady Stanton



  1. I just copied down this quote last night while reading “The Lacuna” by Barbara Kingsolver: “The most important thing about a person is always the thing you don’t know.” Are we better off keeping our “truth” to ourselves? Do we do it consciously, or is it inherent to protect our most precious aspect, that of self, safe from criticism? When it comes to defending others’ truths as we see them, making our voices heard is noble. Should we leave it up to others to find and fight for our own?

    • I’m delighted to hear from another commonplace book keeper. This is a particularly powerful quotation.

      People need advocates and allies who will speak the truth as they see it for those who may feel too vulnerable to speak out for themselves. This is part of why I read voraciously; I am always looking for resonance, for evidence that I am not alone, that there are others who share my beliefs. It’s why I keep my own commonplace book filled with quotations that comfort and inspire me.

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