“This project will directly affect maybe 20 homes in the area.” To my surprise, a loud boo erupted in the seats behind me. Undeterred, I continued on. After all, I was at a public forum that encourages feedback from as many different views as possible.
In truth, I wasn’t entirely taken aback by the raucous objections to my comments. I was speaking at a city council meeting about a senior-living project that is proposed to be built in a historic, residential area of my city. Many residents who live in that neighborhood believe the project is too large for the site and will bring in too much traffic. I wanted the council to know that there wasn’t universal objection to the project and to consider the various benefits it would offer the community.
I knew that my views would be unpopular. I had been reading in our local paper about the objections brought by a neighborhood group formed to oppose the project. But I also knew that a city is only as good as the input it gets from all of its citizens.
The next morning, texts came in from friends, congratulating me for the courage to buck “group think” and speak my mind. While I am thankful for the support, it made me wonder why people are afraid to speak out in person. When did we become fearful about publicly sharing our beliefs, especially when they don’t concur with the majority?
Sadly, it may be the result of the trolling, shaming, and blaming that’s so pervasive and instantaneous on social media.
People are more comfortable feeding their cameras with selfies, food shots and travel pics than feeding their minds with opposing ideas. Showing up in person and getting involved in public debate and discourse — rather than posting online — used to be common. Now it’s almost heroic.
I’m no hero and I have my share of fears. But I’ve learned a few things in my almost six decades on this earth, and one of them is that not speaking up about an issue can be as uncomfortable as addressing it head-on. Silence often implies consent. Too many crucial issues in our world today demand we make our voices heard.
My experience running for a city council seat last year, and losing, has shown me that failure can be incredibly freeing. I now know that putting myself “out there,” raising issues and advocating for various causes brings a new sense of power, knowledge, and friendships. What a wonderful gift of perspective that only trying, and failing, could have brought me.
Shortly after being booed at the council meeting, I received a call from the firm that’s proposing to build the senior living project. They were impressed by my comments that differed so dramatically from the majority that night.
In fact, they want to meet with me, find ways to align with community groups and leaders in the city and get involved at the local level to do what’s necessary to be good neighbors and business partners going forward.
Speaking out, daring to think differently, and showing up to stand up for your beliefs is a core American value. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s not. But I guarantee, it’s always worth it.