What can I expect when taking a stand?

There are many reasons for standing up for what you believe. Perhaps you found your calling, the place where your gifts and abilities are set free. Maybe you have a burden to serve others and hold the hope of seeing lives changed. Perhaps you are simply tired of waiting for someone to lead and have decided that it is your turn to step up.

Acting on conviction and serving others are true blessings that help us understand what it means to be human. Yet, the road of service is rarely easy. Even when following your calling, internal doubts and outside threats will appear to be conspiring against you and will threaten to derail your mission.

Psychologist Edwin Friedman wrote that true leadership will always encounter sabotage. The system—be it a family, business, government or even society—is resistant to change and will do what it can to maintain the status quo. A leader doesn’t hope against sabotage, but expects it and prepares for it.

As you prepare to take your stand, prepare also for the challenges that may threaten to sideline you.

Personal challenges

You got into this effort with high hopes and strong conviction, but discouragement is sure to set in at some point. Every day will not be a good day. The challenge is to keep going in the face of opposition. Moving forward is key. Rely on support groups and personal advisers, and always keep in front of you the reasons you went into this work. Know that you are serving people and doing good work; this will bolster you when you feel discouraged.

In a society that prizes speed and convenience, the slow march of public engagement can induce weariness in even the hardiest of souls. Talking, meeting, pleading, debating, networking, fundraising—everything you do takes time to do correctly. There is the initial effort, the follow-up and seemingly endless effort to keep it moving along. Don’t lose heart. Patience and perseverance are essential to your effort.

As time rolls on and weariness and frustration set in, doubts may also creep in. Maybe you aren’t suited for this work; you are doing it wrong; no one else believes in the effort. All of this is to be expected. Humanly, we never see the entire picture and have to trust that our efforts are having an impact. The mind tends to fill in the blanks with dire scenarios, but stay grounded in your goals and recognize that doubt is just another obstacle to overcome.

Taking a public stand is riddled with temptations. These could come from the object you are tackling (such as pornography), from job offers that seem more lucrative or rewarding, or by allowing the effort to become about you (craving the attention). Temptations are real; they will come, and you will meet and defeat them if you have prepared well. You have in place support groups, personal advisors and always keep in front of you the reasons you go into this work. You also know that you are serving people and doing good work and this bolsters you when an obstacle comes your way.

External challenges

Lack of support or apathy from those close to you
One of the most discouraging situations is to realize that those around you don’t have the same fire burning inside them. More importantly, many of them won’t understand what you are doing and may even distrust your motives. You may struggle when longtime friends, confidantes from church and even family members question what you are doing and seek to dissuade you from action. When this happens, remember that you are not after the praise of others, but are acting out of core convictions. You know your cause is just; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Name-calling and demonizing
The easiest way for your opponents to attack is to tell lies and demonize you. If you can be made out to be an enemy of the good things most people hold in common, such as self-determination or free speech, you are quickly and effectively sidelined as a radical. This kind of attack cuts especially deep the first time it happens, and can leave one feeling deflated and demotivated. Anticipate these attacks, and respond by reiterating what you stand for. Don’t react to these traps. Ignore them, and stay focused on your goals.

Subtle threats
You will know you are being successful when you receive subtle threats. This doesn’t always happen, but it can. Anonymous phone calls and angry letters and emails start appearing as you get closer to success. It can be jarring, but is almost always cowardly bluster. If you receive a serious threat, be sure to alert authorities. Otherwise, remember that a great many people are blind and lost. Stay strong, and don’t be sidetracked even by this stronger form of intimidation.

Poor funding
For those pursuing community change through an organization, the apathy of friends will only be matched by that of donors. Thousands of organizations compete for scarce funding, and it is difficult to stand out from the crowd. There will be times when you won’t know how you will find the money to pay the bills. Remember that most nonprofit or advocacy organizations face this challenge. Look at this as an opportunity to rethink your strategy and identify which aspects of your work are core to mission. Stay focused, and keep working to sell your vision to others. Perseverance pays off.

Friedman wrote that the best response to sabotage is for a leader to more clearly define himself. Stay positive, keep to your agenda, and strive to resist the threats that will come your way.

Copyright © 2013, Daniel Weiss. All rights reserved. Used with permission.