Highlights for Speak Up!
- My first quest for fairness (0:50)
- Better later than never (3:40)
- Professor No-Show was a Hell No (6:00)
- Speaking up doesn’t always have a happy ending (9:05)
- Uncomfortable conversations and owning our mistakes (10:20)
- The battle in the bakery (12:35)
- How about you? (15:20)
Today I want to talk about speaking up, speaking your truth, and standing up for what is right. All of these things help us take the next step forward in our lives.
My First Quest for Fairness
So, we’ve talked about values, and my number two value is Fairness. When things are not fair for me, I literally can’t sit still with it. I can’t keep quiet about it; I have to say something, and that’s what brought up today’s topic of Speaking Up.
I have been flooded with memories of times when I stood up and times when I didn’t, and it is the times where I did not speak up that I’m reflecting on now. I’m thinking: God, I really wish I had done things differently. I wish I had spoken up at certain times. I wish I had asked for what I needed. I wish I’d had the courage to do all this stuff.
I’ve also been thinking about all the times when my Fairness button was being pushed that I DID speak up, even as a little kid.
The earliest memory I could come up with was in fifth grade when one of my classmates was able to turn in their homework late, but I was not able to. The class rule was if you didn’t get your homework in on time, then you took a zero … and I was totally okay with that rule. But then a classmate was allowed to turn in their homework late, and I was not.
I went home, and I told my mom. I was like, “You know, so-and-so got to turn their homework in late, but I didn’t get to turn my homework in late.”
My mom was not one to ruffle feathers or rock the boat. She said to me, “Shawna, the teacher has the rule book; the teacher makes the rules.”
That was not okay with me. I was like, “Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. It’s not fair.” My Fairness button had been pushed, and I literally begged my mother to say something to my teacher. She eventually did, and the teacher realized that a mistake had been made. He let me turn my homework in late for the same day, and after that, we all sort of moved on.
At the time, it wasn’t a big deal … but now, in hindsight, I’m realizing that this is one of those moments that I had the confidence to speak up, even as a kid.
Better Later Than Never
Another memory I came up with was from junior high, when a guy was really, really, really awful to one particular girl during our gym class. He made her life a living hell.
I am not proud to say that, at the time, in my teenage mind, I didn’t want to be his next victim, and I wasn’t the only one – no one else in the class spoke up, either. We all looked in the other direction because nobody wanted to be the next target.
But that’s not the way to behave. Now, I would encourage kids – or adults or anybody who sees behavior like that – to speak up and say something. But back then, we sat by and watched him bully her. It was terrible.
One day, she got revenge on him during our lunch, and she was hauled off to the principal’s office to get detention … and I think she might have been suspended from school. And I thought, That is not fair that she finally had had enough of taking that guy’s shit and she got in trouble.
So, I went to the vice principal, and I said, “This guy has been torturing her all school year. Every single day during gym, he tortures her, and what she did to him during lunch? Well, that was cause and effect.” And so, the bully ended up getting suspended, too.
That was another pretty big time to speak up. As a teenager, to go to an adult and say, “This guy’s behavior was really bad,” … you know, that was a pretty big moment.
Now, again, I wish I had stood up to him at the start instead of her being tortured for all that time. But I just didn’t have that kind of strength back then, and I’m sorry about that. I wish I could do it over and maybe go back to my 14-year-old self with my 47-year-old confidence! Yeah, that would be awesome, but that’s not how it worked.
Professor No-Show Was a Hell No
I also remembered being in college, and there was this professor who didn’t show up for class for more than half the semester … and when he did show up, we did things like cut pictures out of magazines and make what I would now call a vision board – and it was not an art class by the way!
I was just incensed that I had to wake up every morning, drive to school, and then this guy’s not showing up. I was like, Oh, no, no, no! So, every single day that he didn’t show up to teach our class, I went to the department’s office, and I was like, “Hi, it’s me again, Shawna. Yeeeaaah, he didn’t show up – again.” And he would respond with some version of “Okay, whatever.”
But I had a computer, and I printed out a three-page, three-month calendar for that semester, and then used a colored marker to circle every single day the professor had missed class … it was a really powerful visual.
And then I walked into the department’s office – again – and I demanded to speak to the department head. When I had his attention, I pulled out my long calendar of three months in a row, and I said, “He has not been here all of these days.” And finally, somebody started to take me seriously. I was super persistent, but I guess the other students either didn’t care or didn’t think to speak up.
When the department head said he couldn’t do anything about it, I said, “Well, who can do something?” He said, “Well, the only person who can do something about it is the dean.” And so, I went to the dean of that college, and I sat in his office until he was willing to see me … and because I didn’t have an appointment, that meant sitting there for hours with my printed calendar and its color-circled dates.
More than three-quarters of the semester had passed, so I said to him, “I want either an A in that class or my money back.” They gave me an A, and not only me … I had a list of all the people who showed up every single week. Of course, the college didn’t want to refund money for the 20 people who were showing up, so they gave every single one of us an A in the class.
For years after that, people would run into me in bars or restaurants or while I was out shopping, and say, “I remember you! You got me an A in that class!”
You know, I never really thought of it that way. I got an A in the class, but I was just speaking up for what was right, what was important. And I guess these moments of confidence were sort of building up in my life.
Speaking Up Doesn’t Always Have a Happy Ending
When I got into working for my professional career, I was sexually harassed at work by an older guy who said super-inappropriate things. I was young, in my mid-20s, and I didn’t know what to do or how to handle it. To be honest, I don’t even know how I knew to speak up, but I did.
I remember going to my boss and saying, “Hey, he’s saying some really creepy stuff to me. I just want to do my job. Can you just ask him to be quiet? Because when I tell him to stop, he seems to think that I’m flirting or that I’m being funny … I guess. I don’t know what the hell he’s thinking. I just want it to stop.”
The sexual harassment ended, but then came his retaliation, and I had to speak up about that, too! I have to say, I got the worst work performance review I have ever gotten in my entire life because that guy retaliated against me, and he told my bosses that I wasn’t good at my job – which was not the truth … I was AWESOME.
Uncomfortable Conversations and Owning Our Mistakes
From grade school through college and into my professional life, there was all this speaking up that I had to do. They were uncomfortable conversations, but I came to them because my Fairness button got pushed when things weren’t fair and when people didn’t treat me with the respect I deserved.
Again, I don’t even know how I knew to say something or knew HOW to say something; it was just something inside of me.
And for every single one of those stories where I did speak up, I probably have 25 stories where I didn’t … 25 stories on not speaking up to the one story where I did.
But now that I’m 47 years old, I think about things differently, and I speak up more. I ask for what I need. I say what I want. I take responsibility when I make a mistake – which also counts as speaking up.
When we make mistakes – and we WILL make mistakes because we’re human – it’s important to speak up to say, “You know what? I made a mistake.”
I did it just last night when I had to have what felt to me like an uncomfortable conversation with my nephew. I had said something jokingly, but it didn’t make me feel good. I circled back with him later and said, “Hey buddy, we were joking earlier, and I kind of said something, and it didn’t make me feel good. I didn’t like that I said that. And so, I just want to let you know that I’m sorry.”
To me, that counts as speaking up. It’s saying, “I made a mistake, and I’m sorry,” and owning it. Of course, my nephew said, “I knew you were kidding,” but I still didn’t like that I’d said it, and I had to apologize.
So, again, I think about my younger years and the 25 times I didn’t speak up … but then there was always that one time when I did.
My goal in life is to increase the number of times that I speak up … so, look out people!!! I’m going to speak up even more … even when you think, “Oh my god, how could she possibly talk any MORE?”
Ohhhhh, I can! 😊
The Battle in the Bakery
Sometimes speaking up is not about talking but about standing up, not for myself but for people around me.
I remember being at the grocery store at eight o’clock one night, and there was a man standing in the bakery screaming at the woman behind the counter. He was mad because he couldn’t get some sort of bread.
I didn’t realize what was happening at first, but as I was pushing my cart through the bakery area, the woman had come from behind the counter and walked behind me, so when the man turned to continue screaming at her, he ended up screaming in MY face.
Well, that kind of got my attention … and not in a good way.
I mean he had been YELLING at her – and now he was yelling at me. And I yelled right back at him. I got right in his face because he was right in mine, and my words were sharp, “Don’t you dare talk to her like that. Do not speak to her like that.” He told me to go mind my business, and I said, “This is my business. You are not going to speak to her like that.”
Maybe it was my Employee PTSD from when I worked at a grocery store for 11 years. I had to be polite to customers while I was working in the store, but I’d vowed that if I ever saw certain customers out in public when I wasn’t working, I would tell them, “You, sir, are a giant asshole.”
There were people who I really wanted to tell off, and, of course, I never did, so it was like this Ally-McBeal-style fantasy in my head of running into these customers and saying, “Hey! You! You are not nice!”
That never happened, but fast-forward 20-some years later, and I get this opportunity in a grocery store at eight o’clock at night, when this guy’s screaming at this woman because they’re out of bread. I was like, Oh, hell no.
I told him, “This is my business. You are not going to scream at that woman like this. She is just an employee here, and she is not responsible for you not getting bread. If you want to get bread, you get here earlier.” And I literally shooed him away from her.
I didn’t realize my impact at the time, it was a knee-jerk reaction, but two women walked up to me afterward and said they had watched the whole thing unfold. They said, “I am so happy that you said something. I’m so happy that you stood up to him.”
I was a little embarrassed, but then I thought about it later, and I was like, That’s the kind of person I want to be. If I were not able to speak up for myself, if I were at work or something, and somebody was not speaking to me respectfully, I would want someone to step in and say, “Hey, that’s not okay. Don’t talk to her like that.”
How About You?
I feel like speaking up is a way for all of us, myself included, to become the people that we want to be, to create the kind of culture that we want to create, to be part of the society that we want to be part of.
Don’t focus on all the times when you didn’t speak up, on the times when you didn’t have that luxury, because that’s just one part of it. It’s how we learn. It’s how we grow. There’s always another opportunity.
Now, I’m not telling you to jump in some older guy’s face when you’re at the grocery store! I’m suggesting that you stand in your truth and that you stand in your worthiness. It’s important that you’re able to do that and to own it.
So, speak up.
Speak up for all the times when you didn’t say anything.
Speak up for all the people who you didn’t stand up for.
Speak up for all the people who can’t speak for themselves.
Be willing to move forward. Be willing to create change.
Change happens when we do something different, and sometimes doing something different means speaking up.
So, do something different with me.
Speak up at the grocery store. Speak up at the gas station. Speak up at your kid’s school.
Speak up for your children. Speak up for your neighbors. Speak up for yourself.
Speaking up is a really great way to step in and create more confidence for yourself. I feel like the more often you speak up, the more confidence you’ll have.
And the more confidence we have, the more feisty we are! 😉
p.s. The assessment that listed Fairness among my 24 values/character strengths was created by Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology and the director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Click here to learn more » https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/home