When should we say something? It’s not always easy to know when to speak up for something you believe in, and when it might be wiser to remain silent.
Recently I took my daughter “home” to visit the Egyptian side of her family, in Egypt. Upwards of 30 extended family members and friends gathered in two large villas on the Mediterranean Sea, 4 hours West of Alexandria for a few weeks. At home in the States, I have grown quite accustomed to the freedom and privilege of usually being able to speak my mind, question cultural assumptions and work actively for social change.
However, immersed in the hospitality and warmth of Egyptian, Islamic culture, I found myself carefully navigating relationships and conversations grounded in a culture of unquestioned, overt internalized patriarchy.
I frequently faced the dilemma of whether to “say something” or to stay quiet.
I watched myself hiding my truths, my experiences, my fire.
I chose my words carefully. Consciously. Self-protectively.
I could almost feel my edges fading into the background as I became increasingly invisible and camouflaged.
I felt unsettled.
I was aware of the gendered dynamics.
Aware of my judgments
Aware of my choices.
Aware of my inner conflict between transparency and integrity.
More often than not, as a guest, I choose graciousness, feeling a deep and genuine appreciation for my extended (ex)family who will always hold a treasured space in my life and heart. The purpose of my visit was to reconnect and establish connections between my daughter and her family, and I wanted to honor that.
At the same time, I was acutely and sadly aware of how quickly I lost my very desire to use my voice, to express an inner truth of my own in the face of massive cultural differences. It’s not always easy to express an internal, subjective truth when it comes into conflict with normalized, culturally held beliefs.
But sometimes, things need to be said.
Back home, here in my own life, I feel freer to rail against my conditioning, to question cultural norms and to reach for new ways of being human together.
I notice a renewed appreciation for the freedoms I still feel like I have living here … combined with some trepidation and fear about where we might be headed.
The more critical we are of each other, the more fearful we become. The more fearful we are, the more compliant we become. The more we self-silence, the more resentment builds. The more we repress our feelings, the more we turn into nice, dead, polite people whose conversations become laced with covert aggression. Or, we turn into crass, vulgar tyrants buoyed up by overt aggression and violence.
I do not like where that future leads. I am not interested in repeating a history characterized by victims, predators, violence, and oppression.
I want my life to serve a different future, and I can see all the ways that I need to increase my own capacity to show up with love, truth, and humility in more and more moments.
More than ever, I am committed to supporting myself and others to:
Cultivate the communities we need to expand our capacity for showing up in honest, kind and empowered ways.
Make courageous choices from loving intentions.
Find our voices and speak our truths, but with kindness and compassion for all people.
During my travels, I discovered the edges of my courage, the edges of my capacities to show up with more transparency. I want to speak out when it will be helpful, generative, life-serving.
I also found the growing edges of my capacity to love more than myself – my desire to hold everyone with care, to respect differences, to choose connection and open-heartedness.
Finding the right words, at the right time, with the right tone, in the right context … this can be transformative.
So, I return with a renewed commitment to keep growing the loving edges within me: that relational space within us all where we stretch and expand our capacity to be kind and truthful, candid but compassionate.
If we want to change people’s minds, let’s start by opening our hearts.
I hope you’ll join me.