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WWSD? (She'd call them the f* out!)

When Sinead O'Conner dropped her first album in 1987, I was 15. She dropped her second album in 1990--the year I graduated high school. I was entering my own phase of "now what?", trying to navigate adulthood and what would come next for me, when I had zero plan or idea of what I even wanted it to be. I was aware she'd been on Saturday Night Live, and that she'd torn up a picture of the Pope live on national tv, but I wasn't engaged or mature enough to understand the context or severity of what she was railing against. All I knew as I stepped out onto my own path was that I didn't hear much from her after that.




I didn't think much of her again until I happened to catch her interview on Dr. Phil in 2017 (I have thoughts about him, but I'll keep them to myself--I watched because I was interested in her story). I knew by that time that she had struggled with addiction and mental illness, but I didn't know the context. That interview broke my heart a million times. This isn't about rehashing all the horrible abuses that she endured at the hands of so many people that were supposed to love her, though it easily could be. It's not even about how she lost custody of her son when he was 10 years old--to his abusive father who used her mental health against her in family court and how that son took his own life at 17 because of the trauma and continued abuse (though it would be appropriate in the context of this blog).


Sinead O'Conner used her voice--and hers happened to be beautiful--to speak out against all of the abuse and wrongs in the world. She ripped that photo up as a statement against the Catholic Church and their mishandling of rampant sexual abuse in the church. Maybe it was shocking and maybe no one wanted to believe it at the time, but guess what? She was right. She called it out. She was so brave and the world was so unkind to her because of it.


This is what's had me thinking since the news of her death last week. I'm pretty sure that in all the history of the world, nothing bad has ever stopped happening simply because people ignored it. Change happens when people speak up--and point out the wrongs to those that have become complacent or just aren't paying attention (for whatever the reason). Those first voices won't have it easy--nobody likes to hear the truth if it doesn't fit nicely into their own narrative. They especially don't want to hear it if they're perpetrators or beneficiaries of the wrongs. Sometimes they don't want to hear it simply because none of it directly affects them.


I have a part-time job outside the house where I interact with people in a one-on-one capacity. I've been there almost a year now and I've made an observation: the majority of the "difficult" customers that we have to deal with are men and often their "bad" behavior is directed at myself or my female coworkers, who are all younger than me. (This isn't a man-bashing blog--bear with me here). But the other observation that I've made is that when these guys are called on their behavior, one of two things have happened. They either change that behavior, or they don't come back. Either way, it's a win. And that changed behavior doesn't seem to be fleeting. They don't go back to the bad behaviors in our establishment, and just maybe it made them think a little bit about their behaviors in other establishments or circumstances. Some have even apologized.


And that's where I find myself in the wake of the news of her death. She was so brave--that beautiful bald-headed girl on that stage. She stood there in the spotlight--the whole world was watching (or would be), and she ripped that photo right in half. The world was silent and in shock and didn't know how to handle it. If I had a time machine, I'd like to go back in time to that fateful Saturday night. I'd get tickets to that SNL taping and I'd stand up in the front row and give that girl a standing ovation. She called them out.


And that's the thing that I'm going to take from her passing and her life. I am pledging to call them out. And by "them" I mean all the "thems" that need to be called out. Men, women, elected officials. I've been in more than one circumstance where one of the thems needs to be called out, but doesn't. It isn't because it's not obvious the person needs to be called out. Most often it's just because everyone even semi-aware of whatever is happening is mildly shocked at the behavior and thinks "surely I'm missing some context here". It's hard in the moment for sure--especially if you're the target of the bad behavior.


The beautiful thing about calling out bad behavior is that it doesn't have to be done in the moment (probably the least effective time anyway). The next time you see that person, maybe you can say "Hey--the last time you were here, you were very disrespectful to my friend". You might even see in their face that they know you're right--and they might even acknowledge and apologize for said behavior. That's where change happens.


I've been listening to Sinead O'Connor's music pretty much on repeat since I learned of her death--especially one of my favorites, The Emperor's New Clothes (linked if you wanna' listen--you should, it's so good). I think my favorite line in that song is "They laugh 'cause they know they're untouchable, not because what I said was wrong."


Rest in Peace, Sinead. You were right all along and the next time I find myself facing a situation that needs to hear truth, I'm going to ask myself, WWSD? She would call them out. And that's how we change the world.







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