To Everything There Is a Time
By NANCY PATRICK
I often wonder what will happen if I ever run out of things to write about. Not only does writing provide my primary form of expression, but it also serves as cheap therapy for all my neuroses. Those result from my brain’s constant thinking and fretting about national and international conditions I fear I cannot impact.
My constant reflection causes problems for me because it often contradicts the thinking of others whom I like and respect. When that happens, I find myself in emotional turmoil because I want to disagree without causing offense—sort of hard to do! Most of the issues involve strong emotional connections such as religion, politics, social issues, and family situations.
Although my brain knows that we all have the right to our own beliefs and practices, my heart urges me to speak up for what I believe. I fear my silence will suggest my agreement with the contrary beliefs someone else has just stated. If I stay quiet, I feel spineless, but if I speak out, I fear alienation from my companions.
Because of these fears, I refused to participate in social media until two years ago when my 50th high school class reunion occurred. I discovered that all communication would go through Facebook, so I joined to participate. I confess that I have truly enjoyed the connections with my classmates and others with whom I had lost touch. I also enjoy hearing timely updates on others’ health, vacations, and children.
The problems arise when controversial issues appear on personal posts. People feel free to voice critical, judgmental comments about political leaders and social issues, thinking their “friends” on social media share their beliefs. For example, even though Republicans outnumber Democrats in our area, some Democrats do live here. Writing disparaging remarks about the opposite party’s candidates can offend and hurt the people who support those candidates.
Believing in something to the point of zealous behavior can cause some people to behave in aggressive and adversarial ways. In one organization to which I belong, one member voices her opinion about a controversial issue at every meeting. Her method employs propaganda more than information even though several religious denominations comprise this group. These various denominations hold dissimilar views regarding social issues such as drinking alcohol, divorce, sexuality, women in ministry, and abortion rights.
My personal conflict arises when I disagree with people—some of whom I like and respect—and want to express my opinion but do not want to offend them. If I speak up, I fear losing a friend, but if I remain quiet, I feel I have betrayed myself.
Recently, I have faced an emotional event in my hometown. An institution I have long loved and respected has made some extreme changes regarding its mission, its employees, and its programs. These changes have caused many families serious problems regarding their careers, locations, and children’s lives. The extent of the changes came as a surprise, causing many emotional reactions from the community.
Many community members have become vocal, questioning the motives behind the decisions. The people opposing the changes have expressed strong feelings, using stronger language. Each side has offended the other by questioning everything from intelligence to motives to integrity.
I’ve said all this because in this situation I did choose to speak out about my reactions to the decisions and the reasons for those reactions. I felt my silence would betray my conscience; however, the consequence of my decision resulted in an unpleasant experience for me.
My response to the proposed changes hurt and offended someone I highly respect. Unfortunately, this person perceived my negative response as a personal one although I had intended to address a board of people rather than any individual on that board.
I don’t want to fight with people. I want to live in harmony with others as I try to avoid rude or obnoxious behavior. Unfortunately, institutional relationships differ from personal ones in that they result within the power structures of the institution. Even when people strive for fairness and open-mindedness, they seldom reach those goals because they align themselves with others to accomplish an agenda. This type of collaboration breeds distrust and suspicion.
These upsetting situations now have me questioning how to maintain my integrity and self-respect without offending people I like. When should I speak, and when should I remain silent? Ecclesiastes 3: 7 says there is a time for everything, a “time to tear apart and a time to sew together; a time to be silent and a time to speak.”
This question may have no definitive answer for me. As our society faces major differences among responses to social events and beliefs, I must weigh the value of voicing my beliefs against the cost of causing disharmony. Perhaps the answer lies in Ephesians 4:15 in which Paul writes, “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing