No excuse for silence

Back when I was in my first year of college, I remember hanging around some guys who talked about African Americans, other minorities, and civil rights in general, in very negative ways. While I didn't join in the conversations, I did very little to confront their bigotry. I certainly didn't agree with them, but I was too timid to speak up. What I vividly remember is the bad feeling I had inside from my silence.

Years later, I was giving a talk to a large class of high school students about my religion, Christian Science. As I explained some of the concepts, the students — most of them from evangelical Christian churches — became rude and hostile toward me. The teacher had invited me because he wanted his class to appreciate the diversity of religious expression. However, during my talk he looked very uncomfortable, and just silently shrank back into a corner of the room. Remembering my own failure to stick up for what was right when people were expressing prejudice, I understood how peer pressure could make some people in that room clam up when they probably knew they should have been defending my right to express my views.

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