When I was much younger, speaking up was just not my thing. I grew up in the shadows of older siblings and cousins, so in a sense I never really had a chance to. You could say my lowly status on the “food chain” ensured my opinions, if I even had any, were gobbled up by the other older and higher in rank members of the chain. So, on most days, I simply went along with the flow and honestly, I was perfectly fine with that arrangement. In high school I remember being always scared to say yes and too eager to say no, and when you consider this in the context of protecting one’s honor, that would have been any teenager’s parents’ dream. But it also meant avoiding opportunities of leadership and initiative or just missing out on some wholesome fun. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for me to spend an entire night at a party sitting on a wall or standing in a corner on the outside of the dance floor, too shy to say yes to an invitation to dance. Thinking back, I realize this was the story of my life. Others might not have seen it that way because I was surrounded by the “in crowd” and was grandfathered into the social circles. But inside I was scared, unsure of myself, and reluctant to completely dive in.
Today I’ve come a long way since the simpler days of the seventies and eighties, and I don’t care much anymore for hiding in anyone’s shadow. In today’s society we all need to speak up. Young people do not have the luxury of being quiet and unheard. Life has gotten so much more urgent, complicated and cynical, it’s no longer okay to keep our mouths shut and just go along with the flow. I know the discourse between people these days have become increasingly uncivil and mean spirited, but there is a big difference between speaking up and being rude. We cannot use this as an excuse for not getting involved. Abdicating our responsibilities, justifying our apathy, or always leaving it up to others to speak up or advocate on our behalf, can sometimes be risky and even downright dangerous. We can’t afford to hide in the shadows of the “dance floor”, instead we have to get out there and “dance” with the rest of them, whether we are invited to or not.