On a fine day it’s all good with values and integrity. Or so it seems. Except, often, as the hashtag #metoo shows, you might have no idea if things are actually fine or not. Sooner or later, something will happen that will prompt you to speak out (and it might well be a long way after the fact). Speak out for yourself or for someone else, for the sake of your values, your integrity or human decency in general.
As humans that are still far more tribal than we think, the fear of being ostracized is massive for anyone about to properly rock the boat. Consequences are real. And when you are the one being hurt, you might feel you are in the worst possible position to speak out, at the precise moment you feel called to do so. You need a support system. That hand-picked tribe that will stick up for you when the going gets rough.
And let’s face it, in most people’s reality there might not always be knights in shining armor or whatever metaphor or savior archetype you fancy, and not everyone will be immediately grateful you spoke up. A dysfunctional system will fight back hard (it never obeyed the rules of decency you hold true to begin with, remember, that’s how you got to needing to speak up). So, when the proverbial fan-hitting-thing happens, you might have to do quite a bit of the saving yourself, and the better your support system is, the better you can stand up for yourself and be OK (eventually). Or at least not make this the next round of train-wreckery for yourself so you can get yourself to safety and start rebuilding elsewhere.
So, how does one find allies? You likely already have at least some. Friends, partners and family work are the first port of call for a lot of people but not everyone has that available as a resource that is actually helpful. Start before you need it. And be clear what would actually help you right now. Chances are people that aren’t in your situation will only have a dim understanding what actually helps.
Official resources (ombudspeople, HR, a lawyer, your professional association, a mentor, teacher, the police, your level-headed colleague, your manager) are great when they are available (and not entangled in the issue). Look for people with shared values who demonstrate integrity in other matters. It’s about what people do (not what they say). Often the loudest ones are conspicuously absent when stands need taking, and the quiet ones that barely know you are the ones who will help you the most.
It’s can feel hostile out there all alone. Don’t go it alone where you don’t have to.
(written October 2017, updated March 2021)