“Be the change you want to see.” That’s considered a famous quote by Gandhi. And while he did speak of the power of transformation, over the years his words have been abbreviated into a pithy bumper sticker.
Gandhi’s actual quote about change was this:
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”
Why do I think his original quote is more powerful than the abbreviated version? While they both speak to the symbiosis of personal and social transformation, his original quote has that great last line: “We need not wait to see what others do.”
Here, to me, he is speaking about having the courage and conviction to stand up and be heard when others are afraid to, start a movement even while others seem comfortable standing still.
Have you ever been in a meeting and someone says something racist, sexist, or something so blatant against an oppressed a marginalized group? And then there is dead silence.
Do you sit there, wondering who is going to be the person to say something, to call out the transgression? Why is there silence? Why isn’t anyone saying anything?
Should you let this moment pass and then address the person later one on one? What is the impact of changing the culture if we pull the person aside and confront them privately? And do we let those who were afraid to speak off the hook because everyone heard it, but no one said anything?
I understand the discomfort. Why do you have to be that person? How will you be viewed? It seems like a career risk to speak up for what is right sometimes, I get it!
But the question we need to ask ourselves is, who are we harming by not speaking up? The students? A colleague who needed your voice because they didn’t feel strong enough to stand up for themselves?
Silence is often misconstrued as consent as if the mute party were cosigning to what was said. And isn’t silence and fear how cultures remain stagnant?
I have found myself in these situations. I remember early in my career my heart would start to beat a million miles a moment and my voice would shake as I spoke, but I knew I had to say something. I couldn’t just sit back. Actually, I didn’t want to sit back because I didn’t agree with what was being said and I wanted to have a conversation with everyone in the room so we could reach a positive conclusion and outcome together.
What I found was once I broke that unbearable silence, there were often one or two others that would feel the same way. Culture isn’t something that is easily changed, but I continue to chip away by calling out transgressions and backing up my colleagues when they need my voice.
Don’t let a moment of silence deter you from speaking up for colleagues and students. Silence often results in policies being implemented that sometimes harm our students.
We need not wait to see what others are going to do but have the courage to do what others can’t. If we all commit to speaking up and out, we can collaborate on changing a culture of oppression and marginalization.