Every so often you meet with a group of women you've gotten to know and like. You get together for a specific purpose. This isn't a coffee klatch or a social gathering, definitely isn't a political event. Up until now the group has been focused and cohesive, the participants respectful of each other and supportive of the work you're all trying to accomplish. It's a fairly diverse group, and you don't know much about each other's world views. Opinions haven't come up for discussion because they don't matter at all in the context of these meetings.
The membership of the group hasn't been constant; participants come and go as their personal lives and choices dictate. So far that's kept everything fresh and interesting. This time there are two new participants. You don't know them, and they don't know you, but in the first half hour one of the new women begins a diatribe about the immigrant children who are coming into America illegally, "bringing strange diseases" that could wipe us all off the face of the earth, and the other new participant joins in, tsk-tsking and contrasting those children against her own immigrant ancestors who followed all the rules. The rest of the group sits in shocked silence. You think to yourself, Why are we even talking about this? This has nothing to do with why we're here.
Newbie No. 1 opines that the parents of those children should be charged with child abuse for sending their children here alone. Another participant reminds her of the dangers the children face in their own country and of the Jewish families who sent their children to other countries in World War II to prevent their being rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Not to be deterred, Newbie No. 2 makes a hand gesture that encompasses the whole group and states, "If they want to come to this country, then the husband and wife need to stay together, work hard, save a little money and then come here legally, the way all of our ancestors did."
A lovely, sweet-natured African American woman has heard enough. "Hah!" she exclaims. "My ancestors didn't come here illegally. Mine were brought here against their will and forced into slavery."
On that note the off-topic discussion ends and the group gets back down to business. But just barely and without the usual enthusiasm. Without knowing or caring who agrees with the newbies and who doesn't, the long-time participants glance at each other, and the expressions on their faces show that they all agree on one thing: something ugly and smelly is now floating in their metaphorical punchbowl.
The second and third meetings are the same. At various times, with no prompting whatsoever--completely off the wall--Newbie No. 1 launches into tirades about welfare recipients, children who get free lunches at school, children who benefit from school supplies donated through the local "Stuff the Bus" program, and on and on about poor people in general. Newbie No. 2 backs her up: "There's no reason for anybody to be poor in this country," she begins. "Three things are all you have to do: graduate from high school, marry the baby's daddy, and stay off of drugs. That's all you have to do." She is a font of advice, having also shared earlier which two shows your children should watch on television and why, in general, children should not watch TV at all, because, you know, "crime and murder and now the gays are kissing."
So, back to you. Let's say you hear all this stuff and you want to speak up. You'd like to express a different viewpoint right here and now, but you know that this is neither the time nor the place. This is not why you're all here, and the entire discussion is inappropriate. Adding your own opinions to the mix would only get the group further off task.
Let me be clear: I'm not asking for your opinion on any of the social issues that were raised, and if you give it to me anyway, I will probably delete it. I'm fed up with listening to partisan opinions. What I'm asking is, would you a) speak up and debate the issues, b) tell the newbies that this is not the right venue for discussing those issues, or c) "be polite" and remain silent, knowing that the offenders might assume you agree with their derisive remarks and offer more of them? And, if your choice was to remain silent, would you feel like a coward and a hypocrite?
This morning, looking for a link to the What Would You Do? show, I came across the video below. The compassionate store customers in this video gave me hope. One of them even gave me a title for this post.