Last Tuesday, a man attacked an Asian American woman in broad daylight near New York Times Square. The attack was captured on video from the lobby of a nearby apartment building. As the man kicked the woman down and yelled at her “you don’t belong here,” three men in the lobby stood by and made no move to help her; one, a security guard, even closed the front door of the building. (NY Times)
At our Wednesday meeting, our Toastmaster Shoba Rao described this as a sad instance in which people witnessed something wrong, but did not choose to challenge it.
Why Choose to Challenge?
To make positive change, we must choose to challenge – challenge a wrong to make it right, challenge the status quo, challenge someone abusing their power, challenge an ignorant statement or unfair treatment. “Choose to Challenge” was the theme we spoke to that night.
It takes courage to step up, even to defend ourselves. One of our speakers Kushboo Shah shared a case in which she was afraid to challenge her boss’s unfair and sexist treatment of her because she did not want to risk her job. Those of us listening know that situations like these are tough, and they happen all the time. However, as Kushboo emphasized, if we cannot stand up for ourselves, how can we hope to stand up for others?
Taking a Risk
When we choose to challenge, we take on risk. During our Table Topics, Jennifer Filzen pointed out that before you challenge, you must decide if it’s worth it. We have four resources — money, time, knowledge, and relationships. Relationships are most important in her opinion because they can help you acquire the other three resources. So before you challenge someone you must decide — is it worth risking the relationship?
In the first example, of seeing a stranger attack another, bystanders don’t necessarily fear risking any relationship, though they may fear risking bodily injury to themselves. In Kushboo’s case, she feared risking her relationship with her boss and losing her job. What happens if we see a friend or loved-one do or say something wrong? It can be just as difficult, or perhaps even more difficult, to challenge those closest to us.
That said, a challenge does not have to be combative or intrusive. A challenge can be a subtle comment that encourages others to reconsider what they said or did, such as “what did you mean by that?” as Karen Cornwell suggested during Table Topics. It’s possible to challenge without aggression, to gently challenge so that you don’t risk your relationships.
What do you choose to challenge everyday?
This was a question prompted by our Table Topics master Samantha Jamwal. With the recent spate of hate crimes towards Asians and the police killing of George Floyd last year, it’s clear that there is still much to challenge and change about our society. This will take daily effort in small and large ways at a personal, community, and societal level.
Protests are a clear and obvious challenge. Less prominent is the work we must do internally to challenge our own assumptions, biases, and blind spots — much of which we have unconsciously acquired from our history, our culture, the media we consume, and the community that shapes us.
It’s easy to judge and condemn others, especially with the current cancel culture. The real challenge is to look at ourselves and challenge ourselves to change; it takes conscious awareness and everyday effort. But as Michael Jackson sang, “if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.
written by Sarah Tang, SSA of Women L.E.A.D. Toastmasters
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