Historically, politics and religion have been the two topics that we were often cautioned against discussing during the holidays, at business functions, or really just about any place where we want to keep the peace. We all know that these discussions are often fraught with emotional responses and beliefs that may or may not be grounded in facts or logic. And for the brave or foolish who dip their toes into the dialog, they risk offending someone and evoking feelings of anger or resentment.

Today, we are faced with unprecedented stress. We are under a pandemic. We are confronted with the deep wounds of racism that needs to be examined and addressed. The hate and division in our country is deep and getting worse.

How do we react to these issues as individuals, as business owners, as friends, and as colleagues?

Should business owners “stay on brand” and avoid the controversial issues to maintain customers?

Can friends remain, friends, if their core beliefs are revealed and are in contrast to each other?

These are issues that each of us needs to examine and resolve for ourselves.

For me, the haunting words of my friend, Rena Ferber Finder, one of the last remaining Holocaust survivors from Schindler’s List, echoes in my head.        

            “What continues to anger me –this many years later—is the scene in the streets. While we were being killed, tortured, children ripped from their parents, screaming and shooting, chaos everywhere, across the street the rest of the town carried on. The stores were open for business. Children went to school. People were moving around about the streets. They didn’t see us. We were the Jews—people looked at us, but nobody saw us.”
            “As I sat still in my chair, listening to her words, I wondered how people back then could have failed to see her. How could so many have turned away and made her invisible? What kind of human beings were her neighbors and friends? And then I wondered: would it really be different today? Or is there truth to the notion that respect and tolerance are given only to those whom we believe are similar to ourselves? The “other” remains removed from us—their stories and suffering are not within our understanding and therefore do not seem to be our responsibility.”
Excerpt from:   Put on Your Big-Girl Shoes: Stepping into Courage, Resilience and Gratitude

Genocide doesn’t happen overnight. We don’t wake up one day and give ourselves permission to kill other human beings. It begins in subtle steps.

First, it happens under the supervision and permission of a government that sanctions the discrimination of a targeted group. Then comes the dehumanization process—separating “us” and “them” so we can rewire our brain away from empathy. This allows the process of disconnecting. And all of this occurs through the power of silence.

The Silence we hold inside ourselves to protect us from seeing what is too hard to see or painful to know and accept.

The Silence we hold to protect our own economic and political interests.

The Silence we maintain to make sure that we are seen and accepted by all people –therefore never standing up in an authentic way to reveal our truth for fear of not being “liked” or “accepted.”

The Silence wrapped in the disguise of “staying positive” and not wanting to deal with the often messy and hard moral issues.

Today, in my conversations with Rena, I no longer wonder what kind of human being her neighbors were. I wonder what kind of neighbor am I. Here is what has surfaced for me.

Silence is not an option. I want to know the “real brand” of any business that I support. Are the values and practices of their business in alignment with mine?

Silence is not an option. I will not hire consultants or staff to work in my business or consult for our non-profit if our values are not in alignment.

Silence is not an option. I cannot maintain or support close friendships if discussing these issues is taboo.

Silence is not an option. I will use my vote –not simply along the political divide, but I will vote for policies and candidates that are in alignment with what I believe.

Silence is not an option.