I’ve always been a rebel with many causes. When I was little I used to put myself in front of the bullies (and I was skinny as a rake) to defend my friends. On one memorable occasion I chased one across the playground even though she was a head taller than me. Apparently, I was terrifying.
Having something to believe in is important for the soul. Learning when to stand up and fight for your beliefs takes years of hitting yourself against the proverbial brick wall. I have many bruises to show for it.
Choosing is a delicate operation. In the altruistic sense, it’s easy. Anything that is unfair, unjust or untrue will trigger the fight reaction in me (I have a very low flight response). In practical terms, however, things are not always as clear cut and I’ve developed some guidelines:
- Is it true?
I have some things going for me on this one. For starters I seem to have a radar for fluff. In other words, no matter how pretty or appealing things sound, I will question them. My one problem here is I tend to believe people, so if someone says they want something, I believe them. This has turned out to be the biggest con of all. Just because people say they want something it doesn’t mean they do. Or if I want to be charitable, it doesn’t mean they want to put the effort to make it so. Why is this a problem? Because they ask for my help only to abandon me in the middle of the fight when I was counting on them.
- Will it achieve anything?
Tricky. If we only ever did things because a result was certain, then we would never do anything. There is a difference, however, between certainty of success versus certainty of failure. If something is doomed to fail, then there is no point. But if there is a possibility of success, even partial, then go for it.
- Will it hurt more than help?
This is where altruism can be overstated. Some people are happier fooling themselves. Let them and move on.
So how do I teach this to Miss Dee, who also has strong beliefs? Talking philosophically about this stuff, can help, but true experience and live examples are far more important.
There was the fight I had with the primary school when she was being bullied. Many people advised me against it, saying the school would take it out on her. I considered it, but it was simply too important. And while there was a small element of that (she was branded a “complaining” child by some of the staff); in every other sense we won: the bully was removed and Miss Dee came out stronger for the experience.
Miss Dee recently had a nasty episode with a school bus driver who missed her usual stop. When she pointed it out, he kept driving and told her she shouldn’t even dare speak to him. This was made worse because Miss Dee has a knee injury so the extra walk home was painful. Miss Dee formally complained and got an email telling her she was right. She has not seen the driver since.
Recently, however, there was a petition from one of the girls at Miss Dee’s school about the rules around the uniform. I spoke to Miss Dee about it and pointed out that the girl was not really asking for anything, she was just complaining. Miss Dee thought about it and agreed, and even though there was significant peer pressure, she did not sign the petition.
Let’s go back to question number 2: Will it achieve anything? Make sure you know what outcome you want. Fighting for the sake of fighting is not helpful to anyone.
In some cases, the outcome may be to protect others from experiencing what you went through. In the case of the bully, we found out two other girls had left the school previously because of her. Our fight meant others at the school were spared the same fate. In the case of the bus driver, hopefully other kids won’t be subject to his rudeness.
So fight the fight when it’s worth it and fight it to the end.
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. Mahatma Gandhi.