This is something that I have personally struggled with a few times in life. When do you cross that line in the sand between minding your own business and speaking up? Speaking up on behalf of others, speaking up for yourself, knowing when to keep your mouth shut and when something needs to be said.
Are we all too well schooled in that “mind your own business” adage? I just finished watching a short video on Upworthy.com that made me think about this subject. A hidden camera show tests out the question “What Would You Do?”, and in this case, the video was testing how people respond to a gay couple with children being harassed by a waitress. You can watch the video here.
One of the people who didn’t speak up casually commented that it was none of her business. It led me to think about how many times you hear about people who are mentally abused, beaten, bullied or otherwise mistreated, and something terrible happens. People comment that the signs were there, but they didn’t think it was any of their business; they didn’t want to get involved.
Where does the line of social privacy end and social responsibility begin?
Many years ago, the couple who lived upstairs from us would have serious fights. And I mean, knock-down, drag-out screaming matches. We would struggle with, okay, it’s their business, they’re fighting. But, when they’re shouting loud enough for the rest of us to hear, it can’t help but start to become our business. Then, they start throwing things and you hear things breaking, and you kind of start to reach out beyond that line of minding your own business to thinking, what if one of them ends up dead and I did nothing?
We called the authorities when things started breaking. We didn’t know the neighbors other than in passing, but they had a pretty good idea who called and were less than thrilled with us. Still, I think that having them hate us was better than having something horrible happen.
For many of us, we don’t think twice about calling in animal neglect or abuse, but we get more nervous when it comes to people. Are we afraid of what happens when we intervene on a human’s behalf? Is it fear of confrontation? Do we really think that someone being publically discriminated against or privately abused is not our business?
Even if you can’t quite bring yourself to publically call out someone being discriminatory or abusive, perhaps you should look into other ways to do it. Being an introvert myself, I’m not sure how quickly I would be willing to stand up and defend someone in a public place, it probably depends upon the situation. After watching that video, I think I might be more inclined to do so.
However, if you worry that confronting someone publically is out of your comfort zone or maybe even dangerous, you can still take steps to make a difference. Speak privately to someone in charge. Write a letter to the editor. Call the police, call protective services, just call someone.
Sometimes you just need to speak up.