Have you ever watched a tightrope act at the circus? It’s nerve wracking to see someone venturing out on a narrow path, at the mercy of any winds and struggling to keep the right balance for survival. It’s always a long way to the ground. I don’t think I’ve ever watched except through the narrow gap between my fingers as I cover my face.
And, yes, I hold my breath too.
In my work, it often astonishes me that everyday people and even our experienced leaders will step out in public and take a risk by taking a stand. It can be hard.
If you share from your heart, others could be unkind about something crucial for you. Or if you’re an official sharing a controversial view, you could be risking your career or at least your current popularity.
Even anonymized public speech can be harrowing to deliver. You don’t know if your privacy will be protected. You don’t know if you’ll be understood. But some people speak out anyway.
They take their two minutes at a local school board meeting to talk about their education budget worries. They advise neighbors to be tolerant when construction for a civic project is temporarily loud and inconvenient. They say, “Sure, I’ll talk to you” when asked for an interview. They stand up for people they admire who are running for office, and they help to stuff envelopes, go door to door or wave signs on a street corner. Or they may sacrifice personal time and risk public critiques if they run for office themselves and talk honestly about their beliefs and priorities.
If I wore a hat, I’d tip it to these everyday heroes. (Surely fedoras and fancier headgear will come back into style someday. I’m eternally hopeful.) I’m always aware that I rely on the courage, directness, insights and honesty of many people in order to do my job.
I’m grateful when people consent to share a deeply meaningful personal story, or an elected official speaks plainly and is willing to accept both the credit and the fallout for taking a definitive stance or proposing real change, even if it’s a difficult path.
That’s a real grownup, and we need more of them. We need more people who care enough to help push the choo-choo of change up that steep hill. I believe that’s someone who’s earned the right to put on a hero’s cape, at least for a while.
We can’t get anywhere as a society if we’re all afraid to think deeply, come to conclusions and say what we really mean.
So what do you really mean? What matters to you? What do you stand for, and what do you stand against? I would love to hear from you. Your thoughts matter.
CAROLYN BAHM is the editor of The Bartlett Express. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.