SOCIAL Disobedience: It's like civil disobedience with your friends and neighbors

SOCIAL Disobedience: It's like civil disobedience with your friends and neighbors

The past three weeks have been an almost non-stop parade of protests, all centered around the most recent tragic deaths that didn’t have to happen.

“Yes, that’s terrible. But what can I do?” you might ask. After all, you already changed your Facebook profile for BlackOut Day. And you even attended a Black Lives Matter march. So, you’re good right?

No, not really.

Those things only signal that you’re on the side of making things better. But only on the side. As in, the sideline. If you actually want to make a difference, you need to get off the bench and into the game and that’s a lot harder than changing your profile picture. And it probably means getting knocked around a little. I don’t mean literally. This isn’t a call to violence. And I’m not suggesting you intervene in an active arrest or break the law in an act of civil disobedience (although both of those have their place, too).

Here I’m talking about the kind of thing you can do on a daily basis by just calling out bad behavior when you see it — in your family, friends, and neighbors. And that takes courage. It might mean temporarily straining relationships with people you care about. In the worst situations, you might even lose a friend over it. But in most cases, you’ll end up earning new respect, from others, and for yourself.

Instead of “civil” disobedience, let’s call it “social” disobedience. Because in this case, you’re rubbing up against generally accepted rules of social behavior, like “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” or going along with what everyone else is doing even if you don’t agree with it. Or, more generally, the aversion many of us have to disagree with or offer even the gentlest of criticism to people we know for fear of damaging the relationship.

We need to get over that. True friends will appreciate you being honest and direct with them anyway.

So, here’s an example of what that looks like in the context of racial bigotry. But social disobedience can be used for any worthwhile social change that you support and from any side of the political spectrum. If it’s important to you, let the people closest to you know — especially when they themselves are the problem.

Basketball with Torlick

When Ed was a five- or six-year-old boy growing up in Colorado, he noticed that his was the only house in the neighborhood painted red. All the other houses were either brown or green. When he asked his dad why, his father said very matter of factly, “Because when we moved in, the Homeowners Association told us we could only paint it brown or green. So, naturally, I painted it red.”

Apparently, Mr. Tanguay wasn’t much of a rule follower, at least not with rules he considers unworthy. So you shouldn’t be too surprised at how he responded on another occasion when he received a more unsettling directive from the HOA. 

When Ed’s older brother Mark was fourteen, he visited their aunt and uncle, who were on assignment in the Peace Corps in the Marshall Islands, very close to the equator in the western Pacific Ocean. Just prior to returning home, he called his parents to ask if he could bring home a guest for a while. He’d befriended a local boy named Torlick who’d never been to the United States. Mom and Dad agreed, and both Mark and Torlick arrived home in Colorado a short time later. 

As it turned out, Torlick liked to play basketball. So one day when Mark, his dad, and Torlick were playing basketball, a member of the same Homeowners Association stopped and had a chat with Dad. The man told him it was okay to have Torlick as a houseguest for a while. But if the boy wanted to play basketball, “it would be best if he didn’t do so between 5 and 6 p.m., when everyone would be driving by on their way home from work.”

For that request to make sense, you have to understand that because Torlick was a native of the Marshall Islands, his skin was many shades darker than everyone else’s in this very Caucasian Colorado suburb. “We wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about this neighborhood,” the man explained.

Since he was still a young boy, Ed wasn’t privy to most of the conversation, just the part his father shared with him. What Ed does recall vividly, however, was that every day for the next few months, his father came home from work and yelled down the hallway, “Torlick! It’s five o’clock—time to play basketball!”

The Challenge

This week I challenge you to an act of social disobedience. Some time in the next seven days, someone you know will say or do something you think isn’t right. Instead of ignoring it, say something. Do something. You can deliver it with all of the love and kindness you think appropriate. But deliver it. Evil will continue to thrive as long as good people stay silent and on the sidelines.

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Source: Parenting with a Story: Real-life Lessons in Character for Parents and Children to Share, by Paul Smith.

Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author.

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