Our fourth monthly newsletter from Faith Commons is about being an “Upstander,” and learning to speak up and stand up for justice.
The term “Upstander,” first used by diplomat Samantha Power prior to her stint as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N, is widely touted as the morally superior alternative to the silence of a Bystander when responding to an abuse of power. Twenty states, including Texas, mandate teaching the history of the Holocaust to convey the consequences of failing to stand up for people who don’t look, believe, or behave a certain way.
In a 2014 lecture Harvard law professor Martha Minow suggested that Upstander behavior is best cultivated in social contexts and structures where people are encouraged to “speak out and act against what is wrong” and have the fortitude to do so. Yet today a student in Texas might watch Schindler’s Listin her classroom but see parents unabashedly harass, ridicule and intimidate teachers for wearing masks. Perpetrators cast themselves as victims and victims are accused of being perpetrators, making would-be Upstanders afraid of speaking up and afraid to be silent. How do we find the space and place to discern and stand up for what is right?
Any of us might find that worship and study in our faith communities fosters discernment, but still lack the confidence and strength to speak out or act. At Faith Commons we try to model curiosity rather than certitude and humility in place of hubris. We aim to share language, perspectives, and narratives steeped in empathy, decency, and lovingkindness in order to lift up a vision of what is possible for ourselves, our families, our communities and our world. In doing so we hope to better equip ourselves and others to be Upstanders, not because we believe we are always right, but because we decide that it is less scary to speak up than to remain silent. We also see our role as a cheerleader and coach, because it really does take a village to raise an Upstander.
This work is uncharted territory, so we appreciate your support as we make our way. Sometimes we wish we had more answers, but we have found that the world opens up in unexpected ways when we acknowledge that we just don’t know. At this time of year, Jews often read a parable attributed to a 19th century Hasidic Rabbi about a person lost in the woods who meets another who asks for direction. The first replies, “I am lost too, but maybe if we join hands, we can find a path out together.” If you are joining us on this journey, thank you for choosing to stand up for abundance in place of scarcity, and hope in place of futility. While we may not know where it will lead, we will get to know each other along the way, and that may be enough.