man walking next to woman clutching her head in her hands

Scenarios

1. One day my loved one announced a new household order. I am no longer allowed to drive, talk to anyone except my loved one, seek medical care, spend money without permission, or use electricity. I am only permitted to wear traditional clothing; I am only permitted to read books approved by my loved one. This feels restrictive and wrong. I am not used to this. On the other hand, I love and respect my loved one, and we have kids together. Should I say something to my loved one? Should I say something to someone else? Should I simply do as I am told?

2. One day I discovered that my marriage is no longer monogamous. My spouse has married someone else, while remaining married to me. I am not cool with this. I love my spouse and do not want to share. Should I say something to my spouse, thus provoking a fight? Should I say something to someone else? Should I remain content with my lot?

3. One night a stranger kidnapped me from my bedroom at my parent’s house and married me against my will. I am 14 years old. Months passed. Now a pair of police officers have pulled me aside and are asking me lots of questions. My abductor insists that I have a new name and identity now. I am so scared! I told the officers exactly what my abductor wanted me to say. But they don’t seem to believe me and are still asking questions. Should I tell the truth? Should I say something?

4. One day I overheard my loved ones talking. They don’t like other members of the family, who are not present in this room. They have hatched a horrific plan, which may result in harm to those loved ones. Luckily, the plan has been preapproved, and in fact commanded, by a supremely divine force—the most important force in existence, certainly more wise and powerful than I am! Despite my love and adoration of my god, however, I am worried about those other family members. Should I say something to my loved ones who have hatched this horrific plan? Should I say something to my family members who may be in danger? Should I say something to someone else? Or should I simply talk to my god, leaving it in the hands of this all-knowing and supremely divine force?

Book

The above are real scenarios faced by real people. All are described in the book Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. Some of the people chose to say something. Others chose not to.

Outcomes

1. In the 1980s, Dan Lafferty imposed new household rules on his wife Matilda. She despised the rules, but ultimately accepted them, fearful that she would lose her children if she did not. Dan shared his beliefs and experiences with his brothers. Krakauer explains what happened next: “When three of Dan’s brothers attempted to impose these principles in their own homes, however, their wives refused and began to complain.”

2. In the 1830s, Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, began to take plural wives. His first wife, Emma, was not okay with this. As Krakauer explains, “Outspoken by nature, Emma despised polygamy and did not hesitate to make her views known to the prophet. At one point she even threatened to take a plural husband if he didn’t give up his plural wives.”

3. This is the famous story of Elizabeth Smart, who is now an advocate, author, and public speaker. When she was 14 and in a horrific situation, she was terrified to speak out. Fortunately, she found the strength and courage to tell the police the truth after 45 minutes of questioning.

4. Under the Banner of Heaven tells the story of the 1984 murders of the wife and daughter of one of Dan’s brothers. Astonishingly, several people knew about the plot but did not share this information with another living human being. The above scenario is a composite of two people who did not tell: the husband and father; and the mother-in-law and grandmother. Another person who did not tell was a friend and associate of the brothers.

Verdict

Speaking out against people with power and influence is not an easy thing to do. I know how it feels to be paralyzed by fear. I also know how it feels to walk through the fear to the other side: how it feels to confront someone face to face and tell the truth. It’s terrifying. But it’s worth it, for the sake of people’s mental and physical health, and for the sake of a better future.

We might, as a mnemonic device, modify the very good and helpful U.S. security slogan, If You See Something, Say Something. How about this for a personal slogan? If You Hear Something, Say Something. When in doubt, it seems like a good policy to at least talk the situation over with some trusted friends. It’s hard sometimes to see a situation objectively on your own. An outside perspective or two can work wonders. And perhaps even prevent tragedies.

Does someone close to you have an idea that makes you feel uncomfortable? Have you thought to yourself, “Should I say something?” Have you said something? Will you say something?

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