Life Advice

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Health & Spirit

Woman wonders how to combat social ills

By Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Amy: I am a woman in my late 20s. Lately it seems I have been hearing people say obnoxious, racist, and/or just "wrong" things more often. I've always been a very quiet person. I'm terrible at speaking to strangers. However, whenever I hear something and don't say something, I feel awful.

For example, I heard a physician (this is someone I don't know) say something racist that he meant to be funny to a subordinate at work.

I grimaced and moved on.

Recently, while hiking, I came upon two men saying homophobic statements. I was instantly uncomfortable, but said nothing. I was hiking with my genderqueer wife, but she was several paces behind. I stopped to make sure she was safe, but still, I said nothing.

I'd really like to get better about this, because I feel like I am not only not helping, but my silence is making things worse.

I think in some cases (like hiking), safety is most important. But other times, it's not an issue. Could you help me?

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-- Unhappily Shy

Dear Shy: Yes, confronting two homophobes on a hiking trail would probably not be safe.

But calling out a doctor who is degrading a subordinate is lower-risk. Possible responses include, "Whoa, that's not right." You don't have to plan to say anything beyond that.

Instead of me trying to coach you to change your nature and temperament from introverted to reactive, I think it would be wisest (and more practical) for you to find ways to use your voice as a force for change in ways that feel safer and more natural for you. You should consider joining a local community-building organization; you could also use social media not only to call out aggressors, but (more importantly) to spread your own message of tolerance.

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