I was recently reflecting on Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. In particular, I was thinking about the dinner party she attended where she and another female guest were scolded by the older male host for “interrupting” while all of the male guests were not. After the party, some of those guests came up to her and apologized for how badly she had been treated.
What struck me about her story was two things. First, that none of the guests, men or women, felt comfortable calling out or even gently questioning the host about his behavior. These are powerful, smart people who are their top in their field—no shrinking violets here. And yet, they remained silent.
Everyone could see what was happening, but none felt empowered to take any action. Every single person at the table was silent, and therefore complicit, in what happened. Politeness brewed powerlessness.
I understand that our social training might tell us that a harsh callout is unacceptable. But what about a gentle, confused question? “I don’t understand sir. Am I/Is she doing something that’s different than the others guests tonight?”
Or how about the good-natured cajoling? “Come on now Bob. If you keep shutting down the/us smart women, you’re going to look sexist. And sexism is just not cool.”
Or even the kind, inquiry that assumes good intent. “I know you probably don’t mean to, but are you aware that you are treating the women/us differently than the other guests?”
The loss here is not really about the host’s behavior. There are sexist/racist/homophobic people in the world. He may be stuck in his ways and has no interest nor willingness to change. Of course, we won’t ever know until someone tries. Most people who change do so because someone cared enough to have the discussion, no matter how uncomfortable.
But the real loss is that everyone else at the table missed an opportunity to find the members of their conscious tribe. There were many more people “who get it” at the table and yet the evening was run by the clueless guy in the minority. If just one person had been willing to say something, and at least one other was willing to back her/him up, the whole dynamic would have shifted.
This is what I mean by the silent majority. And if we don’t start finding each other and speaking up, the world is not going to change.
In fact, spiritual leader Marianne Williamson, recently said in an interview with Oprah, “I am both very hopeful and incredibly concerned about our future. On the one hand, more of us are conscious than ever before. And that’s a wonderful thing. But we are headed to a disastrous future. Those of us who are conscious had better step up and start turning this ship.”
She’s right. There is a silent majority that needs to find our voice. And now.
So how do we do that?
First, we need to get comfortable speaking up. Every day, we each have many opportunities to speak up about something, that would bring more consciousness to the situation. Perhaps it’s at our workplace. Or maybe with our family, friends or neighbors. Maybe it’s at the local school or church or shopping mall.
For me, my comfort increases when I have figured out a few lines to say and then practiced them out loud. Think about the situations you are likely to encounter, and then pre-script your comment, question or witty response.
Second, we need to use language that others can hear. I know that many of us who are conscious or on the spiritual path can be seen as “woowoo.” But if we focus on kindness and empathy, we can often get through.
I find that helping someone see that their words or actions may be making others feel bad often shifts the whole dynamic. Over the years, I have only ever had 1 person say, “Good. That was my intent.” But everyone else responded with surprise and then a desire to make it right. And I almost always use the phrase “I am sure you don’t mean to do this but…” because it allows for all kinds of ways through the discomfort.
Third, we need to leave trails so that we can find the others members of our conscious tribe. There IS strength in numbers and by knowing who we are and working together, we can accomplish a lot. You leave trails by the words you use, the things you have sitting on your desk and hanging on your walls, the way you treat others, and the rules you teach your children. So we all need to both leave trails and look for them so we can find each other.
One you find your tribe, start working together to shift things—both intentionally and strategically. Think about how much you could change your workplace if you had 2-3 allies you could count on and you worked together. Pretty powerful.
Those of us who are conscious have a responsibility to start turning the ship. We don’t have to wait for the clueless person with the power to wake up. We just need to gently but firmly take the wheel and nudge it a little more every day.
Let’s get started!
Appreciate this, Britt. I’ve heard the courage of your quiet confusion before, in a crowded or loud or potentially embarrassing situation, and it’s remarkable to see how its small motion stops the racing velocity of unconscious thought long enough to turn the conversation, and outcome, in a surprising and lasting way. Thanks for making the stand, and discussing how simple it is to do, here.