When do you make a mountain out of a mole hill?
Every day we’re faced with situations that are wrong, appear wrong, or simply rub us the wrong way, and it’s hard to know which battles are worth waging.
One famous leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The time is always right to do what’s right.”
I have always been a big proponent of fairness, and I like this sentiment a lot, but it introduces the concepts of “right” and of course “wrong” and context is key. There is also a well-documented gray area between black and white where legality and morality swirl about with words like just, fair, and balanced up for grabs.
Regardless, Dr. King’s words imply that we should fight the good fight all of the time. For anyone who has fought the system; has stood up for themselves, someone whom they love, or for a cause — you know that it is emotionally and physically draining to fight.
Back to context though. If you stand up for something in an individualistic culture (like in North America) you are often hailed as being a leader. Dr. King is a notable example, though we all know his journey was not an easy one. In relation to individualistic cultures there are sayings like: “The tallest tree in the forest gets the most sun.” On the flip side, in collectivist societies (for example in China), you can be seen as a trouble-maker for standing up. The corollary saying there is: “The tallest tree is the first one to get blown over in the storm.”
Within even the most individualistic societies, however, there are plenty of collectives that expect their codes to be followed even at the expense of individual rights. Watching a movie like North Country where one female miner endures horrific abuses at the hands of her union counterparts (but ultimately prevails) is enough to frighten anyone away from speaking out.
Taking a stand can be terrifying and can have all kinds of repercussions — I think it is safe to say that most of us have heard the saying “He won the battle but lost the war.” Sometimes it is easier to look the other way, or to turn the other cheek. Often we hope there is someone out there that will take on our battles for us.
…And then we go home and look at our children; the children who we teach to stand up against bullies. Then I am struck by a line from a movie the Contender: “Principles only mean something when you stick to them when it’s inconvenient.”
Sure, it’s not fun or comfortable to raise difficult topics, but difficult silences are often worse than difficult conversations. Things fester if left unattended. If we too many mole hills go, it may be that there were mountains under the surface (like the proverbial tip of the iceberg) and we should have tackled them.
Bullies left unchecked feel more powerful and often then take more liberties with us and others. If we don’t do “what’s right” when it happens to us, if their behaviour persists or worsens, then the mistreatment others may encounter is on partially on us. Albert Einstein was quoted as having said: “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
I truly worry that complacency is killing our way of life right now. Yes men and non-boat-rockers are being rewarded handsomely. We’re so busy just trying to make it through the week to the weekend that we don’t have to time to even think about social justice and our role in that.
I, for one, want to live a life that is as consistent as possible with my values. Being a parent reinforces the importance of this for me as I hear my daughter often echoing my childhood rallying cry of “That’s not fair!” I realize that while it is my responsibility as a parent to make sure that they understand that life is not always “fair,” that I do have a duty to leave the world a better place; which may include trying to make it more fair.
Bottom line, I’d like to nip mole hills before they become mountains, by having “inconvenient” principles (the Contender), by not looking on and doing nothing (Einstein), and by doing what’s right (Dr King).
Perhaps Emiliano Zapata, the Mexican revolutionary, said it best: “I’d rather die on my feet than live upon my knees.”