Rebecca L. from Lehi, Utah, writes:

I wonder what it is that keeps people from standing for what they believe. Is it a fear of being labeled un-Christian? Being too concerned about what other people will think about you? Not wanting to rock the boat? Not wanting to offend anyone? How do you know when you should let your voice be heard and how do you do it a way that is firm but compassionate?

Kathy says:

What an interesting question! Let's create a fictional character named Lucy, and make sure her mom and grandmother teach her that it is never polite to call attention to herself. Let's make her mother a standard shrinking violet who feels it is not ladylike to be unpleasant, which to her means confrontational in any way. Lucy's mother, Lacey, always defers to Lucy's father. Even if she has information that he does not, she would never dream of contradicting him, no matter how amiably. To her, that simply would not be polite.

Just to keep it interesting, let's give Lucy an Uncle who is impossibly rude and combative. Let's make him a compulsive liar.

Lacey: “Good morning, Thomas. How nice of you to stop by.”

Uncle Tom: “It is a horrid morning, thanks just the same. And you look ridiculous in that dress. Where did you find that rag? And get that mutt off me! I've half a mind to go back for my rifle.”

Lucy might grow up believing only a sociopath would ever speak her mind in public. She has had no model for managing conflict politely or effectively.

I don't think we would want to depend on her to be our advocate if a persuasive speech were needed. And many of us were raised in a similar culture.

To generalize from Lucy's example, I believe social conditioning has helped us to be very cautious about calling negative attention to ourselves. “Going along with the crowd” certainly has its place in the arsenal of species survival tactics. For most of us, it is a high risk behavior to stand alone in opposition to the group. Many of us associate that sort of thing with some of the most obnoxious people we know. Who wants to be like that?

I think it is devilishly difficult to know, often on the spur of the moment, when our ethics require us to take that risk. It's understandable that most of us simply don't make that leap. We might deeply regret it afterward, but I believe the social conditioning in most cases is very strong.

That's why so many of us prefer to write a letter to the editor, or a personal letter to the person with whom we disagree. Can we be sure our opposition is right, or righteous? Can we be so confident that we dare to appear obnoxious to those who do not share our perspective? Will it do any good? Will the good outweigh the harm?

Usually the damage is greater than the gain. Persuading others to change cherished beliefs is quite an art and a science. It's a situation that lends itself to careful research, intense prayer and thorough preparation. My hat is off to the person who will jump to her feet and cry foul with no forethought, because she feels she needs to set the record straight. I might think she is both obnoxious and mentally disturbed, but I still admire her courage. If, like Alison, she is bright, articulate, charming, prepared and polished (especially if I happen to agree with her) then she is a hero.

I hope such heroes will hasten the day when we can bring our conflicts into an open forum with courtesy and compassion, and get things resolved without months or years of infighting, hurt feelings, incomplete information and prolonged squabbling.

Meanwhile, perhaps the best we can hope for is trying to make sure our facts are verifiable, our tone is not obnoxious, and there is some hope that our speech will do more good than harm.

Alison says:

Kathy's first paragraph blew me back about 20 years to my days as a BYU student. There I sat in a marriage preparation class taught by a popular professor whose name has been changed to protect the idiotic. During one day of lecture, as was his tradition, he invited his wife to speak to the class. It was this particular day that had me running for cover. While I did not copy the quotes verbatim, I will relay to the best of my recollection the actual words that stunned me.

As Dr. Wife proceeded to indoctrinate the class on how to be a good wife, she told us (a) she never questioned her husband's decisions, (b) if she knew her husband was about to make a mistake she never told him so, and (c) when he found out that he was wrong, she never revealed that she had known it all along.

I often wondered what kind of strange sadistic game this was. Did she just privately revel in seeing her husband flounder around doing dorky stuff, when she could have saved him the pain?

OK, so get your jollies however you want, but can we please refrain from making this some kind of doctrinal requirement for “good Mormon women”? Where's the ack emoticon when you need it?

So, first, just let me say that I do not believe that being a “good Mormon woman” requires you to shut up and do what you're told. But it seems fairly common for LDS women to believe that being pious requires us to eliminate any hint of being firm, outspoken, or strong. And heaven forbid we should be opinionated! Blaspheme!

At the core, I have no remotely satisfying answer for this question. I struggle with it daily. Over the past years I have come to feel that one of the most important things I can personally do in my life, is to speak up against evil and stand up for those who are being harmed by those who disregard good. But this can be such a consuming things, as there truly is evil all around, just as there is good.

What is the good of having standards if they are only allowed to sit quietly in the corner, being sure never to inconvenience anyone? Why claim a value set, if we only dust it off when we are personally persecuted, but allow it to lie fallow when it's “only” someone else who is taking the heat? Isn't this how every playground bully from the “Bob” I dealt with for a decade up to Hitler operates? By depending on the silence of everyone else who “just wanted to get along”?

How do we find balance between knowing when to shut up and “leave well enough alone” and when to risk everything for the cause of truth and good and to protect the innocent?

I'll bake brownies for the first person who can give me a complete answer to that one.