As of today, I’ve heard this line just one too many times.

Yes, if you see a thing you don’t like, it is a good thing to step up and try to change it.  Fixing an organization or group by joining the people in charge of it is dandy and direct.  People who do nothing but sit in a corner and complain are obnoxious twits.  These are all true things.

“Step up or shut up” is still crap.  I’m a constituent of at least five different political categories, four professional organizations, and three volunteer groups.  I’m also opinionated, contrary, and vocal.  I literally cannot “Step up” for everything I think could be improved or which needs to be changed in all of these things.  There are not enough hours in the week, and I say this as somebody who is intimately familiar with exactly how many working hours I have in a week.  In fact, at this point, it would be flatly irresponsible for me to do anymore stepping up because while I can manage the workload I have right now, I’m running at exactly my capacity, and if anything takes an uptick or goes wrong I am very, very screwed.

I’m a constituent of x, y, and z things because it’s not possible for everybody to take personal charge of everything that has an effect on their lives.  This is why we create bodies with representation instead of making everything happen directly.  And when I say, “Hey, this thing is a problem,” or “Wouldn’t it be better if we did things this way,” the correct response from my representatives is not, “Fix it yourself.”

My flawless brilliance notwithstanding, I don’t expect the world to jump and give me what I want every time I speak up.  I might not have all the facts.  My concerns, even if valid, may not be a reasonable priority.  What I want might be diametrically opposed to the interests of my fellow constituents.  That’s okay.  In those cases, the responsibility of my representatives is to educate me about what I’m missing or why I can’t have what I want.  Or they can explore the issue and find out if I really am the only one, or just the first one to speak up.  Or they can accept that I’m always right and do as I say.  These are all acceptable things.

But you know what?  If I had the time to step up and fix things myself, I’d bloody well be doing it already.  I’m not exactly shy about volunteering for things.  Taking charge of a thing isn’t the only way to try fixing it, and the people who insist that only the people who do this have opinions that matter aren’t just jerks, they’re bad leaders, and they’re wrong.

It’s my duty as a constituent to understand how the structure above me in whatever thing I’m a constituent of works.  It’s my duty as a constituent to interact productively with that structure.  It’s my duty as a constituent to recognize that I’m one constituent among many and nobody has infinite time and a resources.  But it is not my duty to be content or upgrade myself from constituent to representative.

My question to the next representative who says otherwise is this: What the hell do you think your job is?

One thought on “Step up or Shut up

  1. There’s an equivalent with free software projects, where people are often told to submit a patch, fork a project, write their own alternative if they don’t like what’s out there. Of course, the patches, project forks, or new pieces of software written by non-experts are ridiculed like whoa, and even experts don’t always have an easy time of it.

    My conclusion has been that the “step up or shut up” family of responses are there to make the responders feel good about themselves in a way that “yeah, I actually don’t care about your concern / would otherwise just prefer to not address it, so I’m going to ignore it” doesn’t.

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