I have been thinking a lot about the idea of speaking truth to power. Inspired by an interview I did with Dr. Susan Roll of St. Paul University in Ottawa, I began looking into the actions of individuals in times of war who were willing to stand up for their beliefs in spite of great threat to their lives and livelihoods for doing so.
A poignant example of someone who spoke truth to power is Sophie Scholl. Susan Roll wrote and presented a paper on this incredible young White Rose member for a conference on Women as Peacemakers last November.
Sophie Scholl, a 21 year old German woman, along with other member of the White Rose movement in Germany (which included her school friends, her brother and many others), created leaflets outlining the many lies told by the German government regarding its actions overseas, particularly their treatment of Jewish peoples in Poland. In many cases the leaflets began "as you already know...".
Sophie and her friends were saying something that everyone already knew, but they were willing to say it out loud--something that the majority of German (and indeed Global) society feared doing.
Sophie was executed for her involvement in the White Rose in February of 1943. Before her death she was cited as saying, "So many people have died for this war. It's about time somebody died against it."
But Speaking Truth to Power does not necessarily have to be done at risk to one's life. Regardless of the circumstances, it is often very difficult to speak the truth--for fear of resentment, for fear of offending someone, for fear of exclusion. As Susan Roll told me in our interview in November "some truths are too important to be polite about".
So, can speaking Truth to Power lead to a more peaceful society. Certainly we in Canada see our ability and right to free association, to protest, to vote, as key in maintaining a peaceful society. But what of a country that seen as such an embodiment of peaceful society culture? Is speaking truth to power in the United States seen as peace-producing/maintaining? What about Israel? What about North Korea?
In fact, even in the time of the Shoah, those who spoke truth to power faced death, or worse (and yes, there are worse things). Sophie died because she stood up for what she believed in. Is this the way to peace?
Surely there are more subversive ways to attain peace that do not put lives at risk.
But if lives are already at risk, then what is one life against thousands?
What do you think? Must we always speak truth to power? Are some truths too important to be polite about?
And can speaking truth to power lead to peace?