This week, in honor of opening a new year, I wanted to use this space to write an open letter to my former more conservative self that was trained on some level to believe that assertiveness was immoral. (If you’re just joining us, or forgot, I’m a former pastor’s kid from a right-leaning denomination who went on to get a PhD in Communication. There are lots of places on this blog you can learn about where I came from and what I’m about–especially here, here, here, here, and here.)
Dear Former Self,
I know you’re probably appalled by a lot of the things I’ve been doing lately to speak up on behalf of myself and vulnerable populations.
You were taught that was an unsafe thing to do.
Let’s be clear: there were good reasons that was unsafe for you.
You were socialized into so many unhealthy beliefs, and told they were moral. And that what I’m standing up for now was immoral.
Which I know led to a lot of internal confict in you. See, I can see from an early age that you were very deeply concerned about what Jesus meant in Matthew 25 when he asked us to care for those who weren’t valued by their societies as much as others.
And yes, I know you saw people in the church often trying to take care of people in those populations at times.
But you also were trained to believe, at the same time, that those outside the church who were trying to take care of these populations were somehow immoral.
And yeah, some of the people around you were inculcating these beliefs in good faith, but others were not.
I can see now, as of course you couldn’t before, how the greater evils in our society are soooo different than you were taught to see them.
But, you know, also the same in a lot of ways. Because I remember how deeply concerned you were, when hearing all of those stories about people hiding Jews in WWII, as to whether you would ever have that sort of moral courage.
I could go on about these things for quite some time, but it comes down to this: it’s okay to stand up for yourself and others. It’s okay to be assertive. Often, very often, that’s the very best thing to do.
Let’s say this again, in hopes that you and I can both feel it in our soul of souls and the deepest visceral parts of us:
Assertiveness is not immoral.
In fact, it’s the most honorable and moral thing to do, whenever it makes sense to do so.
But yeah, that’s going to look different in different situations. And that’s okay.
None of this stuff is one size fits all.
And yes, let me say this to you as well—no matter how either others who are unhealthy or that part of me that still fears that I’ll be unsafe if I speak up feel about it, assertiveness is not aggressiveness.
The truth is, some people in the world around you will always look at assertiveness as aggressiveness. I know that’s what’s been taught to you. I get it.
I still feel like it’s unsafe sometimes. Sometimes it is, honestly. But I also know this to be true: plenty of research across disciplines and traditions shows that whenever possible, assertiveness is the healthiest thing to do.
You are worthy of a healthier system and environment, you see. And so are others.
And objectively, it makes the most sense for all of us to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to work toward that healthier world.
Will we get it wrong sometimes? Absolutely.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.
The funny thing, former self, is that I have so much compassion for where you are, and what you’re doing to try to stay well and safe. I can see that you’re doing the best you can. Thanks for doing that—it helped me get where I am now.
I’m okay with you being a little appalled at me now. (See how far I’ve come?)
And with that, I’m going to wish you well, and move into my new year of assertiveness. Thanks so much for listening the best you could—and thanks, by the way, for cultivating that skill. It’s been super helpful tool in my toolbox.
At any rate, I know you can’t possibly imagine being where I am now. But please, trust me.
Your Future More Assertive Self
Want to donate to keep this work going? I finally, after 4 years of this project, have tip jars set up at Venmo and PayPal so you can help keep the lights on and such (THANK YOU for whatever you can do!). Here’s the info:
Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?
Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you. It actually helps you with conflict both online and off. To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. As soon as we feasibly can we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.