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Yes, Rock The Boat


The other day I was in the stands at my daughters’ swim competition, and I overheard a parent recount a conversation a few of her co-workers had about abortion. This parent is a pro-life conservative Christian, and the co-workers in the conversation were ardently pro-choice, expressing their disdain and horror at the recent Dobbs SCOTUS decision.

This parent chose to not engage, opting instead to stay silent, reasoning that “it wouldn’t change anyone’s opinion. It would just make them angrier.”

When I overheard this, my first instinct was to sympathize. These kinds of conversations at work can be risky, and afterall, it is her job and her relationship with her co-workers. Any advice I gave would have been therefore cheap. She is the one with skin in the game at her place of employment. Furthermore, it is true that these kinds of convos are fraught with emotional land-mines; yes a lot of times, the other side just digs in further, and no one budges.

All that is true. Nothing that follows minimizes the risk.

But as I continued chewing on what I heard, I thought, “is that automatically true? Must that be the outcome? Says who?” Her attitude is the exemplar of a self fulfilling prophecy. The best way to ensure pro-choicers continue to be pro-choicers is for pro-lifers to not engage and say nothing, staying silent. If we do that at scale, and it becomes a habit, that manufactures a consensus, leaving secular progressives with the impression that all the Good People agree with them….when they don’t. Perhaps no one changes their mind….but perhaps someone does. They probably won’t have a complete turn around right then and there, true enough, but maybe something you say will stick with them, they’ll chew on it later, and it will pop something loose and they’ll move in the right direction. Put enough of those encounters together and you have some real change in a person’s beliefs. Let’s say that before you engage, they are a 9 out of 10 on the confidence scale, but afterwards, they are still pro-choice, but they are an 8 out of 10. They didn’t become pro-life, but that’s still progress, and therefore a win. Again they might not acknowledge that to your face right then and there. They might not even consciously recognize their sway in confidence. But it happens, subconsciously. I propose that that happens more often than we like to admit, especially since a lot of secular progressives, pro-choicers included, aren’t used to anyone close to them questioning their views. They might lob bombs at caricatures on social media and scree at the MAGA uncle who just posted a rant on Facebook, but having to deal with someone who disagrees right there in their social circle, flesh and blood--that’s much rarer. Just being a friend or co-worker who doesn’t affirm and tow the party line can be enough to jar them loose a tad. You might despair at the project of changing minds. I get it and feel the same way. Sometimes I feel like I’m speaking into the void, and they’ll just go back to their usual friend/social circle and it will confirm their priors and drown out my influence. I’m one voice and it’s 1 vs 100.

But realize it’s not all on you. If the Lord is active in the other person’s life, you aren’t the only link in the chain. He will bring other people into his/her life to continue the process. Your job is just to be faithful in the moment, represent as best you can, and leave the results up to God.

If we pause for a sec, we can all think of many, many examples where the 1 voice *did* spark something in them, which led to another voice, then another. There are myriad lives like that. That’s not to say that keeping your mouth shut is *never* the right way to go. Sometimes discretion is the greater part of valor, especially when you intuit that you, yourself, will lose your cool. There are other criteria that might call for you to back off, but I find that the attitude of my fellow swimming parent above is quite common in conservative, Christian people. It’s more than just a prudential one off every now and then….it seems to me the exception rather than the rule when it comes to engagement with others outside our tribe. It’s almost like we have a sort of inferiority complex, focusing almost obsessively on what others will think of us, appearing nice, and avoiding ruffling feathers. We want to keep quiet to keep the peace, and that’s the standard disposition. We feel this inner drive to temper what we say to keep from rocking the boat. But I’m telling you, secular progressives typically don’t have that hesitation. You can find exceptions, yes, but generally I’ve found they just speak their minds confidently without worrying about who it is going to upset.

I see this dynamic in my classes. In the time I’ve been in teaching in Texas--five years--I can count on one hand the number of Christian conservatives whose confidence and ability to speak their mind in like manner were on par with their secular, progressive classmates. I’ve had a few, but they’ve been just that…few. There were similar dynamics when I taught in California.

This is an interesting social dynamic. We should resist it. Don’t misunderstand: I’m not advocating speaking rashly and without thought. There’s a difference between running your mouth and speaking with bold clarity. The two aren’t the same. I’m advocating the latter, not the former. Our compass shouldn’t be “is this going to rock the boat?” That can’t be the priority.

Here’s the kicker: I should take my own advice more often. I struggle with this mightily myself and am no paragon of boldness. I freeze up in the most low stakes environments, much lower stakes than the situation in which my fellow swimming parent found herself.

Exhibit A: that exact situation, where I overheard her re-telling a story. Guess what? I had all these thoughts I’ve just blogged about in my head, but I said nothing. I just sat there, pretending not to notice.

Perhaps a dose of my own medicine is in order.

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