Silence isn’t golden: Find your voice

Base Info
U.S. Air Force illustration by Senior Airman Derek VanHorn
U.S. Air Force illustration by Senior Airman Derek VanHorn

Silence isn’t golden: Find your voice

by: Senior Airman Derek VanHorn, 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs | .
published: June 29, 2013

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- There are 20 people standing in a circle, screaming at the top of their lungs as two confused "grown-ups" circle one another inside it, nervously waiting for the other to take the first swing. There are more cell phones and cameras snapping pictures of the fight than you'd find on a Hollywood red carpet.

Everyone has seen this happen, either in-person or on the internet, but it still begs the question - why didn't anyone stop them?

Because there's a problem in society, and it's a big one - we don't always speak up when we should.

Col. Stephen Williams, 35th Fighter Wing commander, is out to fix that problem by enforcing a new campaign here. His solution involves people finding something they already have - their voice.

"When I say find your voice, it's not only just finding it - it's letting it speak," said Williams. "Everyone has an inner voice that knows right from wrong. The challenge we have is we tend to suppress that voice because we don't want to have any kind of confrontation. We're too concerned about how somebody is going to feel."

Williams said his observation of people being more willing to record or take a picture of a problem than step in and fix it sparked his drive to encourage people to step out and do the right thing even when it's awkward or uncomfortable. Although he didn't tagline any specific trends or issues as the root of the problem, Williams emphasized that using one's voice is applicable in any potentially adverse situation.

"There are all kinds of things in society we have grown accustomed to that involve not speaking out and intervening, and I want to put an end to that," Williams said.

Williams doesn't speak from an assumptive position. He's open about the fact that he's "been there." He knows it takes more than good intentions to make a difference and he's not coy about the fact that people are naturally hesitant to step out of a comfort zone to do the right thing.

But here's the good news: He's got your back.

"I support you. The chain of command supports you," Williams said. "The thing I'm looking for in the wing is for people to jump on the bandwagon when someone finally has the courage to do and say the right thing. People need to know they are supported 100 percent when they are trying to do the right thing."

He went on to explain the questionable thinking and default tendency many people have to defend those who aren't doing the right things.

He used an example of a wingman preventing an Airman from getting behind the wheel after having some drinks by taking away their keys. Instead of the drunken Airman fighting back and ignoring the requests, the norm should be to team up on the side that's against drinking and driving.

"I'm looking for the mob rules concept to be on the other side of that fence," he said. "I need four or five people to step up instead of one to fight this together because there is power in numbers. And then, that person will finally realize they are in no condition to have those keys in their hand."

While he said no one group of people or locations are immune to the evolving trends of society, he mentioned a few areas - including the midnight curfew and cross-cultural relations -- that make Misawa unique.

"We need to be respectful of the cross-culture that's present here as well," Williams continued. "Embrace the diversity, embrace the culture. It's a great opportunity as long as we are respectful of each other's culture. But I will tell you, it's important when you see folks out there doing things that could be misconstrued from the Japanese perspective. Help people, give them a heads-up."

Williams suggested before you go out on the town with wingmen, make a promise to respect each other's suggestions. Empower each other beforehand so that when the time comes, you'll listen.

It's a very down-to-earth approach, and every person - Airmen and civilian alike - can play their part and hop on board.

In a day and age when so much seems to be centered on a "looking out for number one" attitude, Williams asks that we all take a more open-minded approach to those who speak up.

"Thank the person for their concern, whether right or wrong," he emphasized. "Credit the person for caring enough about you to say something.

"My heart is here; obviously I want to solve this at Misawa. It takes everyone to make it stop -- our whole community has to be on board to make that happen," Williams concluded.

Tags: Misawa Air Bae, Base Info
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