Sometimes it's hard to respond in the moment to something we disagree with. But often those are the very moments when it's most important to speak up.

Let me give you a non-Seinfeld example. 

Early in my career, I was catching up with a friend whose other friend worked in admissions at my alma mater. He was bragging that his friend held some sway over who would get in.

The topic of university places reserved for local applicants came up. (The gist: students who attended high school near the college are given preference over other applicants - provided they're strong candidates and regardless of personal wealth/lack thereof.)

My friend complained, "It's not a good idea. These kids are smart enough - they have to have good grades to be considered - but they're often from poor backgrounds. Which in itself I have no problem with. It's just that they don't always do settle in well and it reflects badly on the university." 

After a subtle hesitation, I respond: "I guess that's the price we pay - for everyone who is admitted and thrives, there might be some who don't. But you've got to give everyone the chance."

"Yeah," he said, lukewarmly, sensing my disagreement. We changed the subject.

The thing is, I was one of those local kids! I wouldn't have been sitting across from him, eating brunch in New York City, comparing notes with him on our professional successes, if that same university hadn't offered preferential admittance to "those local kids." Sure, it can be hard to fit in when the people around you went to different high schools. But "you can't have poor kids and rich ones mixing with one another" is a pretty ridiculous argument to make.

I should've spoken up, loud and proud, to deliver an impassioned verbal rebuttal to his comment.

But I chickened out. I didn't know him that well and I was overly concerned about offending him or harming our nascent friendship.

Since then, I've learned a lot professionally and personally - and politically.

If your friends are worth keeping, they'll remain your friends when you disagree with them. And if people don't see the political as a local issue, one that impacts people they know, they're unlikely to be moved enough to do something about it.

So I guess what I'm saying is, "The Jerk Store called..."

But seriously, speak up. Speak loud. And don't let the moment pass you by.

 

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Ellie Hearne is a well-respected leadership communications expert. She is almost never lost for words.