I have the guts (no pun intended) to say and do many things now that used to give me pause. I have never really been a shy person or one who avoids speaking out, but I used to be quite self-conscious and avoided calling attention to myself if at all possible. I had little self-esteem or self-confidence during my adolescent years. Nowadays, I speak up and act without fear and nervousness about what others might think because I realize the importance of such matters, regardless of my own self-doubts. This was not always the case.
When I was a teenager, I recall one particularly horrible incident in which my mother was openly mocked, and I did little to stand up for her or even really comfort her. My mother was overweight, and she frequently endured stares and whispers from many unkind souls when out in public, but on this particular day, the scoffers were a little more vocal. Their comments were rude and loud, and they attracted the attention of other shoppers around us that day. My mother ignored them, as she usually did, pretending not to notice or hear. I did the same. I was upset, and I felt horrible for her, but I did nothing. I suppose I feared the mockers would intensify their attack on my mother or maybe even turn on me. But in any case, I stood there silently and never even offered my mother a word of sympathy. To this day, I wish I had displayed more courage. I wish I had stood up for my mother and for everyone who has ever had to go through a similar ordeal.
If I had it to do over again, knowing what I now know and having a little more confidence these days, I believe I might have confronted my mother’s bullies – not in any kind of hostile manner, but in a matter-of-fact, discussion kind of way. I might have asked them why they felt the need to belittle another, what they thought gave them the right to treat an individual so unkindly, and why they felt so superior to their fellow human beings. I would do it so that these wayward souls would know that their behavior was inappropriate and unacceptable. I would do it so that they would know someone was willing to stand up and speak for those who, for whatever reasons, could not or would not stand up for themselves. I would do it because it was the right and moral thing to do. But mostly, I would do it so that my mother would know I cared and that I wasn’t willing to let her suffer because of my own insecurity.
I do not understand that level of cruelty, and I never will. I can’t go back and undo (or redo) what happened that day, but I can do my part to prevent such unchallenged nastiness now. I can act to stand up for others who lack a voice and/or the means and will to help themselves. I can fight for those who are marginalized by society and who feel stigmatized or overlooked. I can represent those who fear speaking up or are unsure how, and I can help them find a way to be heard – or I can speak for them if need be. I will never again allow my own self-doubts and insecurities to keep me from the path I know I should walk. There is too much at stake. There is too much to lose.