When Is It OK to Take Sides?

ethics politics Nov 09, 2020

They say it’s best to avoid talking about religion or politics – especially politics, these days.

People in the public eye, such as actors, musicians and other “celebrities” are told to “stay in your lane”, and that they have no business voicing their opinion in the political arena – as if their choice of occupation negates their right to exercise the same democratic freedoms the rest of us enjoy.

Individual business owners and corporations are advised by experts not to make their political positions known, in order not to alienate a segment of their audience.

Isn’t that good advice? Well… yes and no.

It’s one thing to avoid taking sides regarding political philosophies; I agree that that is rarely a good idea for someone running a business, unless it’s a deliberate choice and part of your “brand”. But there is a difference between a political leaning, and a moral position. And, if you’ll pardon the pun, morality trumps politics. Every. Single. Time. When the actions of the government or of a political party cross moral boundaries, a stand must be taken.

Yes, I’m going there.

One of my mentors is Mel Robbins, an American author, motivational speaker, and life coach. Mel is also trained as a lawyer; she spent several years as a public defender, and as a CNN legal analyst.

Unlike the vast majority of social media influencers, Mel has not shied away from using her platform to express her opinions about US President Donald Trump and the actions of the Republican party since 2016. She’s taken some flak for that, and has lost some followers. But it’s one of the things I most admire about her.

Yesterday, when we learned that Joe Biden was to become the 46th President of the United States, Mel made a very innocuous post:

Most of the comments on the post were positive, but then there was this one, alluding to a previous post Mel had made earlier in the week:

But Mel’s posts were not about politics. They were about morality, and about treating every person with equal dignity and love. That shouldn’t be a political stance – no party philosophy should negate the basic human rights of any individual, and until 2016, for the most part, both the GOP and the Democrats could agree on that, at least.

Wouldn’t it be wrong not to use the platform you’ve been given to speak out against injustice, cruelty, violence, and corruption? I think so.

The following quotation has been misattributed (everyone seems to disagree about the source), and it might not ever have existed as it’s worded today, but it still holds tremendous wisdom:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an anti-Nazi theologian and pastor during World War II, said something very similar:

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Remember the murder of George Floyd? Remember how everyone started posting black squares on their Instagram accounts, proclaiming their outrage, and their opposition to racism in all its forms? Performative, yes. But if a particular business owner DIDN’T join in on the #blacklivesmatter social media wave, it’s quite likely that a large portion of their audience gave them the side-eye, and possibly took their silence as tacit support of systemic racism and/or white supremacy.

Expressing outrage on that particular issue was (rightly) considered not only acceptable but expected; interestingly though, objecting to the government’s support of other systemic injustices in society is somehow considered “being political”, and strongly discouraged.

Here’s the thing: why would anyone choose to do business with someone who believes it’s ok to rip refugee children from the arms of their parents, and then have no documentation to enable reuniting them? Or that’s it’s perfectly fine to lie about the dangers of a deadly virus so that thousands of citizens die needlessly?

If you are willing to overlook the fact that your potential customer supports morally reprehensible acts perpetrated by their federal or state officials, just so that you can make a buck, what does that say about your own moral compass?

Mel Robbins teaches her audience about the importance of being real, authentic, and true to yourself:

Although she hasn’t come out and said as much, my personal belief is that one reason Mel chose to express her opinions about US politics over the past four years had to do with letting “her people” find her, and sending a message to those who disagreed with her, to let them know they are NOT “her people”.

And so, I’m letting you know, this is who I am: I can respect that we might have differences of opinion on economic policy or world affairs, and I’m happy to work with you despite those differences. But if you express views that suggest certain people have less of a right to exist or to flourish than others, or if you support regimes that hold those views, you are not one of “my people”.

As Martin Luther once so famously said: Here I stand.

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