Too Risky to Keep Silent?

We all have those times when we must choose whether to speak or to remain
silent.  How should we decide?  By what criteria?  Two articles in today’s NY
Times made me consider this issue.
    One was an article in the “Health” section (D1) which
told the story of a physician who thought he spotted what might have been a
malignant melanoma–that is, a suspicious-looking mole–on the shin of a woman
in a nearby seat at a poetry reading.  He knew that if a melanoma is discovered
in an early stage, it is quite curable, but left unchecked to grow, it is one of
the deadliest of cancers.  Should he say anything and risk awkwardness and maybe
defensiveness on her part?  Or should he speak to her?  He decided to speaking,
apologizing in advance for being intrusive, but saying that as a physician he
was concerned about the mole.  She thanked him and responded that a dermatologist
had thought her mole was benign–and then she moved on quickly.  He had
embarrassed her, he knew, and he did feel awkward–but even so, he says, it
had been too risky to keep silent
    The other article was on the front page and concerned
the decision Olympic athletes have: should they publicly condemn China, because
of the Chinese government’s support of Sudan and its policy on Darfur. 
    Jessica Mendoza, an outfielder on the U.S. Olympic
softball team, does not hesitate to speak out about Darfur.  She has decided to
participate in a coalition of more than 200 athletes who are trying to bring
more awareness to the situation in Darfur.  When she is not in uniform, she will
be wearing her “Team Darfur” wristbands around Beijing, and she hopes to visit
the Darfur region after the Olympics. 
    But personal and business considerations have kept
some better known athletes from joining the coalition.  Many are reluctant to
speak out, apparently.  One young athlete who has a $90 million endorsement
contract with Nike said that he needed more information.  Nike says that they do
not limit or censor athletes’ comments.  Many companies, of course, now do
business in China. 
    So when is it too risky to keep silent?  When should
we speak out?  I think we should speak out when we have the power to make a
.  When a life could possibly be saved, or an injustice made
    All of us have power, and yet power has somehow gotten
a bad rap–perhaps it’s Lord Acton’s dictum that “Power corrupts, and absolute
power corrupts absolutely.”  Yes, it can–but it doesn’t have do.  Power itself
is neutral–it is neither bad nor good: everything rests in the intentional use
of the power. 
    When do we speak and when do we keep silent?  We speak
when we have the power to save a life–or even to redeem a situation that’s
going downhill, to the detriment of the group (of whatever kind).  And we speak
when we are called upon to speak–because of time and place and historical
moment–to right a wrong or to remove one of the claims of
    Yes, to speak up and be wrong is sometimes
embarrassing, sometimes hard on the ego.  But to wind through one’s days never
taking the risks set before us is to really not live at all.  What are we trying
to do–to be safe?  What a fantasy that is!  No one of us in mortal form is ever
safe.  We have only this moment, only this hour, this day, to live with
integrity and passionate love.  Don’t waste  another minute with idle
reflection.  It is always too risky to be silent when anything wrong can be set
right, and you have the power to do so.