You’re out to dinner with some friends and a few people you are meeting for the first time. One person you don’t know makes a comment that, depending upon your interpretation, is coming from racism or ignorance. No matter the origin, you’re offended and so, from the looks on a few other faces, you’re not alone. What do you do?
Ignore the person. After all, chances are you will never see him or her again.
Make an excuse and leave the table, hoping when you return the talk will return to less controversial topics.
Call the person out, stating forcibly and simply that you don’t agree and find the remarks offensive.
Unfortunately, situations like this one are becoming all too common. Sometimes the person making the insensitive comment is not a stranger, but a good friend or, worse yet, a relative. Standing up risks creating a scene and possibly alienating people who are upset that you are ruining what was supposed to be an enjoyable social evening. But if you don’t say anything are you by your silence signaling agreement?
Sometimes the opportunity to speak out doesn’t happen when you are actually facing the offender. You know that a man in power is sexually harassing women you work with or know. Do you say something? Encourage the woman to come forward? Confront the man himself and tell him you will report him if he doesn’t stop?
After stories about Harvey Weinstein appeared in the New York Times and the New Yorker not only are women speaking out – more than 60 at last count – but men, too. Many of them, including director Quentin Tarantino, knew what Harvey Weinstein was doing. (When Tarantino was dating actress Mira Sorvino, she told him that she had an incident with Weinstein in a hotel.) Yet Tarantino, like so many others in Hollywood, had projects with Weinstein and so kept quiet. Now Tarantino is telling us he’s sorry. Regretful. Upset. Apologetic. And watching all this, we say, too little too late.
How do you know when you need to speak out? Some signs. You feel sick to your stomach when you think about it. You keep thinking “coulda woulda shoulda.” You can’t sleep. You tell others, but make excuses for why you didn’t say anything. You say, “next time…”
When there is a next time, do the right thing.