For some who know me as the person who has a reputation for speaking his mind no matter how crazy it may seem, it may surprise them that I do have a fear of what other people think. There are often times that I wonder whether I should really post something or even bother writing about it for fear of the repercussions. The funny thing is, I find this is true in all areas of my life whether public or private. The question that goes through my head is if I, who have a reputation for being willing to speak up, am afraid to truly share my thoughts and feelings from time to time, what about all of those who do not?
Of course, the fear tends to come from the notion of being judged for having a different opinion. What will others tolerate and what will push them over the edge? What would serve to comfort? This problem leads to a greater problem: if we are not honest with others due to fear, how can we can we be honest with ourselves? In our efforts to ‘people please’ we can lose our true selves. This would be a disservice both to ourselves and to others who wish to get to know us.
I have some friends who are kind enough to point this out to me. “For being such an open book, very few people really tend to know you.” My reply? Just because a book is open does not mean you know everything in it. You have to flip the pages and read the content. Very few people take the trouble to do that. And there are only so many books that are worth reading. By the way, most people I imagine are more complex than most books. So though it is entirely possible for me to read one hundred books in a year, really reading 100 people I imagine would take significantly longer. Humans especially take longer given that the text tends to change.
There are many topics that I have a fear of speaking up or speaking out about. Two of them are the dreaded politics and religion. Both of them have many nuances that trouble me when someone is strident regarding how things should run. What may be good in one or multiple circumstances very well can be horrid in another. Though I consider myself to be of the Christian culture due to my upbringing in the Southern Baptist denomination and beyond, I do find myself nervous about writing devotions. I tend to think of things as principles and guidelines rather than dogma.
Some of my most telling experiences regarding this were when I was in seminary with the aspirations of being full-time in the ministry. I quickly found out that there were distinct schools of thought and that some of these schools appeared to be more close-minded than others. My experience is that all of them if you push the right buttons, tend to cut off dialog. Unfortunately, this tendency is not just limited to seminary.
A friend of mine recently mentioned a conversation that I held two or three years ago with a mutual acquaintance. I honestly only have the vaguest of recollections about it other than the fact that the person in question was obviously very opinionated theologically and that I kept on wanting to sidestep his leanings. As I understand it, this person feels I am out in left field. This does not come without reason. Evangelicals often consider me extremely liberal. Of course, my liberal brethren often consider me conservative.
When I have spoken with theologians in the past, they can be very adamant regarding interpretations. Speaking up in such a manner can be very divisive. Though it provides a path, it also does not allow for variance and for the what ifs or mistakes either on their part or that of others. When dogma is enforced, it can make life very miserable for those that fall under the governance of such individuals. To a small degree, I experienced this in seminary where though my work in several prestigious graduate schools often warranted high Bs if not As often received Cs as marks.
To a large degree, I attribute this to a lack of welcoming thought at said institution as opposed to a regurgitation of dogma. The problem is when such individuals are in authoritarian positions. They rarely tolerate those that speak up and offer differing opinions. The consequences can be much greater than shunning or of lower grades. If the threat of shunning has caused me to hold my tongue before, I can only imagine what harsher threats would bring.
In a society that is actually ruled by such dogmatic personalities, I can only imagine how the minority feels. Would they have reason to fear if such held power? I strongly suspect the oppressed would. This is especially the case when said powers systematically dismantle long-established safeguards.