By Alex Krasser
Head of Online Learning Design at Knovva Academy
Ed.M, Harvard Graduate School of Education
“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” — John Augustus Shedd
I haven’t posted on social media in years. I used to, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve felt less motivated to do so. Among other reasons, I stopped because I didn’t think that my thoughts were worth sharing. It’s not that I thought they were unimportant or invalid — my opinions mattered to me, and to the people I chose to share them with — but in the relentless cacophony of social media, I didn’t feel that they mattered more than anyone else’s. And since my feed is mostly a bubble of like-minded people, I felt I had nothing to add to the conversation.
Likewise, I am conflict-avoidant in real life. It’s not the same as silence, but it’s close. If someone says something I disagree with on an important topic, I’ve tended to try to find some happy middle ground in the conversation, or change the topic entirely. Avoiding the discomfort of conflict has been more important to me than diving into a loaded topic. And both online and in person, it’s possible I’ve stayed silent because I was afraid not just of conflict, but of opening my perspectives to criticism. Maybe I was afraid of coming across as ignorant, of having someone challenge me or correct me.
However, recent events have pushed me to reconsider my silence. Some topics are too important to stay silent on. Some are matters of life or death.
By staying silent, I protect my feelings and my perspectives. They remain unchallenged, and I go through life comfortable with the way I view and interact with the world. But what if my perspectives — and as a consequence, my actions — allow harm to come to others? And what if other people share my flawed perspectives? What if I had the opportunity to learn, to change my perspectives, and to then speak about what I’ve learned with others? Don’t I owe that to the world?
Learning doesn’t happen in comfort. Learning is hard and often uncomfortable. And it is essential if we are to work towards improving the world. There are nearly 8 billion people currently living on this planet. Their lived experiences are very different from mine. If I am to work towards making the world a better place, it’s essential that I be open to the perspectives of others. My perspective is limited, and as a white man, it is privileged.
Staying silent doesn’t mean that I haven’t been paying attention and learning along the way. But it does mean I’ve limited my exposure to some powerful learning opportunities. Fortunately, when the limitations of my perspective have revealed themselves — when I let my ignorance slip — I’ve had friends with the courage to call me out. They’ve pushed me to view the world through different eyes, which have seen things I haven’t as a white man. In the heat of the moment, I was defensive and upset; I was being told I was wrong! And while it was painful to hear, I needed to hear it, because it led to the most important perspective shifts of my life.
It’s hard to be told you’re wrong, to realize that your perspective is limited. But that’s where the most powerful learning opportunities happen; not when you take in new information, but when that new information displaces something you once thought was right.
For this reason, on vitally important topics, it’s essential to engage in the conversation no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Voice your perspectives. Test them. Send your ship from harbor out into the open ocean. Stay calm as the seas get rough, and check your hull for flaws. You may not be able to spot them on your own. Only by weathering a difficult conversation can you test the worthiness of your voice.
Your voice is not the only thing being tested; difficult conversations test your ability to listen without defense, to be open to hearing hard truths. Of course, I can’t guarantee that everything you’ll hear will be the Truth, or even a credible version of it. Anyone who speaks has an agenda, and that agenda may not be altruistic. As such, critical thinking is essential to help navigate the flood of perspectives and opinions being voiced every day in the news, on social media, and anywhere there is a platform to be heard. If you hear a voice you don’t already know well, consider their motivation and check their credentials.
So what is my motivation for writing this blog? What credentials do I have for raising my voice? Truth be told, only my lived experience; my conversations with others, the articles I’ve read, the evidence I’ve seen and read that I believe is trustworthy. But I’m not citing my sources here, so you’ll have to decide for yourself whether to trust me. I’ve made my motivations clear: to use this platform, my voice, to encourage others to do the hard work of learning.
Now, to reevaluate my silence. Is social media the most effective place for me to speak up? Not necessarily. I’m grateful to the choir of voices I hear on my social media; I’ve learned a lot from them. But that choir is going strong, and they don’t need me preaching to them. I may sometimes raise my voice in harmony. If I’m off, then I hope some brave soul will change my perspective, and I can pay it forward.
But social media interactions, with their tendency to devolve into entrenched opinions and aggressive defensiveness, may not be the ideal forum for important conversation. I have a friend who once changed someone’s mind on social media — she even sent me screenshots to prove it! — but the fact that this is a remarkable occurrence only goes to prove my point. When my perspectives have been meaningfully changed, it has come from powerful in-person conversations. So, frankly, I believe a single, targeted conversation could make a bigger difference than a year’s worth of broadcasting on social media. There are family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors who might be able to learn from me, and who I can always learn more from. And I can push them to raise their voices too.
My thoughts are worth sharing because they’ve been shaped by diverse perspectives. My thoughts are worth sharing because, on serious topics, I cannot stay silent. There is nothing to be gained from silence, and everything to gain from speaking up; either I amplify the voices I agree with, or I open myself up to a powerful learning experience. If you’re going to speak up, you must educate yourself, and be open to being educated. Push your perspective to evolve, and raise your voice to push others, too. Perspectives lead to action, and action can change the world.