Have you ever stayed silent because if you said anything it could hurt your job or status or something similar? It’s like a wall that holds you back, even when you disagree. I’m not talking about being polite. Rather, disagreeing or having a different view point is what could get you into “trouble.” Another part of this is being afraid and not doing something because of that. How many people won’t venture out because it is too cold, too hot, too rainy or snowy, or too far away?
I had a conversation with a friend recently related to that last part. My friend thought that I’m not scared and that’s why I am willing to do things like riding my bike at night. I replied that I might be scared, and I’m not willing to have that as a reason to miss out. I do make sure to take precautions. The anxiety that I feel is a motivating factor to prepare and stay safer or drier or whatever the case may be.
The Hard Part
An organization that I have been involved in for about a year and a half has been a love/hate type of relationship. Early on, I decided that as a volunteer I could take the risk of speaking out and I wanted to make my voice heard. I had some initial support that allowed me to be a part of the steering committee. As I have stated in other posts, I am much better at writing than I am at speaking. I remind myself constantly that my belief in the potential community impact and importance of the organization is why I stick around. To you, that may sound silly. However, I have seen and experienced snippets of that impact and still feel it is worthwhile. Some examples of the challenges of continually speaking out include being a woman around a majority of men, high versus low engagement, and communication misunderstandings.
To be clear, most of the time I can get along with anyone who is willing. The willing part sometimes falls off course. For example, the conversation I have with some of the men comes from the attitude that I am someone to flirt with and it doesn’t matter the age difference or either person’s relationship status. Other than the flirting, there is never a reason to talk to me or take me (or any woman) seriously.
Some men insist on what they refer to as “chivalry,” always giving things up to let the woman make a first choice. I believe in taking turns. Or, for example, if you are going to hold the door open, do it because I am the next person behind you, not because I am a woman. Chivalry might be ok for a date or in certain other circumstances. As a rule, it stinks because it is as if women need the advantage of going first or cannot open the doors themselves.
Then there are the men who either joke all the time or are a$$holes. In these cases, it is challenging to have a serious conversation when that is the intent. Jokes are a way to be distracting and blow things off. The flip side, sometimes from the same people, is the a$$hole side of giving everyone a hard time to get through a conversation just to give someone a hard time. That is the only point – to tease or give a hard time. I am ok with this attitude if there is an actual point to it and the delivery is in a way to bring attention. Usually, though, it is joking, a hard time, or sometimes being completely ignored or hijacked. An example of hijacking is when I am directly asked a question from one person and a second person answers without acknowledging that the first had been asked. Sometimes this is the most challenging because it is like being invisible. Plus, it would take someone who is seen (not invisible) as an authority to make the point and potentially get behavior to change. I have spoken up about a couple of these. Apologies or not, the behaviors return.
High or Low Engagement
My philosophy is to be involved as much as possible when it is something I am passionate about or trying to learn. I admit I have a hard time when others do not put in the same efforts. Equally, sometimes my involvement is invisible as far as an output other than my physical presence. Overall, especially a year ago as a student, I have felt spread too thin and have had to make choices.
This particular organization is still in a startup stage with a lot of setups being created. In other words, even if I solely focused on tasks for the one organization (which I cannot do because I need to keep my paying job), the tasks would range. Some of the work has been openly divided up. The problem is that where I consider the work similar to a paid job, not everyone does. As a volunteer, it is a choice of how much to do. If it is considered a job, that means if I am expected and cannot make it, I let someone in charge know. If I promised to do something, I work on doing it. If I have a question, then I also expect at least a direction if not a final answer. I do speak up since I am around. Still to be determined if my efforts are appreciated. See previous section for reasoning.
Do you remember the Universal Translator that tends to be available as needed in Star Trek episodes? In this case, the foreign language is still English. The interpretation differences probably have to do with backgrounds and how the communications have been previously interpreted. When interpretations have occurred that made it seem like I am “this” type of person and in reality I am completely different, it puzzled (and puzzles) me. This happened with my ex-husband, too, someone who was supposed to know me. It is much clearer when it happens now because I usually know what the interpretation is and sometimes there is an actual discussion and the “Universal Translator” has worked. I tend to forget about some of the other interpretations until the situation repeats. People have been mad at me before because of those differences in interpretations, which is not a friendly environment. When I can get a discussion in, I do.
The whole point here is to be able to respectfully speak out and take the risk even when afraid. If nothing else, I am learning how to deal with the situations and getting practice at being better at speaking out. In a more established or formal organization, I probably would have been fired several times by now. The question is, if we cannot speak out and everything stays as is, what is the point? The challenges and changes are what makes us grow and mature. Are you satisfied with the current state of life in the world you engage in or will you walk the line (respectfully) for something more?
Thanks for reading!