Q Should I respond to unfair or disrespectful comments about others or ignore them?
A Every situation requires wise judgment. Here are some factors to consider:
Silence in the face of injustice adds to the harm done. The Bible repeatedly calls us to speak up in support of those being wronged by others. Words matter, especially in today’s culture where reputation and identity play a big role and communication is quick. Each of us plays a part in shaping a culture that treats all people with the dignity they deserve as imagebearers of God.
The significant role of the bystander is highlighted in research on the prevention of bullying, harassment, and racial or gender discrimination. The bystander faces the choice of either condoning injustice or taking some action. Safety considerations may determine whether that action is direct or indirect.
Responding wisely in any given situation requires thought and readiness. Anger or other emotional responses are likely to reinforce negative attitudes and could escalate to violence. In a social situation, letting the offender know that you are also hurt when others are hurt can be effective. If the offender is a family member or someone close to you, a separate personal conversation may be more appropriate.
If a direct response might be unsafe or is likely to make the situation worse, it is time to consider how you can be part of or even start a larger initiative to change the culture that creates such situations. History shows that such efforts by persons who refuse to be silent have changed unjust practices. Changing attitudes toward persons with disabilities and campaigns to make child labor and child abuse socially unacceptable are just two examples.
About the Author
Kathy Vandergrift teaches public ethics to university students and advocates for the rights of children.