It Takes a Village

In many respects, I breathe the Oasis core values. As a scientist by training who serves others, my favorite core values are: “Reality is known through reason” and “Human hands solve human problems.” Today though, I want to address the core value I struggle with the most: “Be accepting and be accepted.”

I wrestled with writing this post for weeks. It originated in my deep struggle with the fact that the core value, “Be accepting and be accepted” can easily lead to accepting behaviors that are questionable when there is no conversation around the line where acceptance must stop and critical discourse must start. To be clear, I am not wondering if a different sexual orientation, race, social status or the like is deserving of discrimination. What I grapple with are behaviors in the grey areas, not illegal, yet uncomfortably unethical.

If you disrespect another human, should I accept that? What if the person doesn’t know? If you are a fanatical religious person, must I silently listen to your point of view while you evangelize me? I think not. I think at times I should disagree, depending on the issue, vehemently.

There’s a saying: It takes a village to raise a child. Feedback from other members of society is what shapes us, allows us to understand social norms, laws, culture as well as appreciate differences between people views that differ from ours. So rather than, be accepting and be accepted and staying out of each other’s business, I chose the values for me to be: Be open, be empathetic, be engaged.

For many years, I have held the conviction that having a higher office, a higher degree or being in power does not give you additional rights but instead gives you more responsibility. However, too many leaders in the world orient themselves merely on the legality of things rather than holding themselves to the higher standard of ethics. The highest office in the US is held by a person who has repeatedly cheated on his spouses and shows blatant disrespect for people in general. While that isn’t illegal, it is highly unethical. When lies and deception are used purely to one’s own perceived advantage, the boundary between illegal and unethical becomes blurry.

So, then how do we decide when to be accepting and when to impose conversations around unethical behavior. I believe that each of us must make this determination for ourselves but I would like to offer some of my thoughts on decision making. The thoughts below are not exhaustive. Feel free to think this through and see if there are others you’d like to add.

  • Does the behavior benefit society (or better yet, humanity) or only a small, selected group of individuals?
  • Whom does this behavior hurt? What reasons are given to justify this?
  • Has someone been lied to and whom did the lies benefit?
  • What effect does the behavior have on the culture of the group? Does it instill distrust and fear? Does it alienate fellow humans and if so, how and why? In other words, are you deciding whether to accept a Nazi or hide a Jew?

There are many more considerations that could go on the list and I would encourage you to think through different scenarios, add to the list, discuss with your friends and decide for yourself where the boundaries for you are.

Often times, when the unethical doesn’t quite cross over into the illegal, open minded people feel compelled to let others be. In the short run, it might be easier, but consider the effect that this behavior has in the long run. Similar to fire suppression in the forests, suppressing confrontation now has the potential to lead to explosive violence later. When we allow unethical behaviors to fester, at best, the person goes one step too far and it throws the group into a crisis. At worst, the leaders affect the culture in such a way that this behavior becomes the norm and an entire society follows them to their own detriment, possibly making life miserable or impossible for many.

Confrontations are never comfortable or fun. They deplete emotional reserves, especially of those who lead the conversation. Confrontations hurt people and often lead to misunderstandings, rumors and additional unnecessary conflicts. Conflicts are stressful; they induce anxiety. By all these measures, conflicts should be avoided at all costs…except, that they also provide lots of opportunity: opportunity to grow to evaluate, converse, redirect and change, even to grow closer. So, I would argue that avoiding confrontation is ultimately far more damaging than engaging in it.

There are many questions left open at the end of this blog. Many I cannot answer, many which must be geared to you as an individual. How should I voice my disagreement? What do I do if I miss a chance? What issues should I consider? Am I in a safe environment (do I need to be safe)? Who are my allies? Should I check with others, encourage an open discussion rather than a confrontation? Many of the answers will vary based on the person and situation. You must find the way to speak which makes you reasonably comfortable.

But I implore you: be open, be empathetic, be engaged. Grow the courage to engage in the discourse.

We must, because – it takes a village!