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flowomo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-28-08 09:52 PM
Original message
What does this famous phrase mean?
I could probably Google this and find an answer, but then I wouldn't post this question, which others may have, and others may wish to comment on. If you think it's a stupid question, please spare me your ridicule and just move on.

We have all heard the old Quaker saying (at least I think it's Quaker in origin), "Speak truth to power," and many of us have used it.

But to be honest, I have never really understood what it means.

Does it mean, "Speak the truth the those in power"?
Or does it mean, "Speak truth to gain power"?

Or does it mean something else?

Or does it mean both things above and perhaps more?

What do you think it means, and where did you learn that meaning?
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babylonsister Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-28-08 09:56 PM
Response to Original message
1. "Speak truth to power". You're probably not familiar with it because
it's been rarely in evidence.

Think Code Pink: that's what they do. And Cindy Sheehan. They do it knowing it won't be popular but they do it anyway.
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flowomo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-28-08 10:15 PM
Response to Reply #1
3. what? they do what?
that's what I am asking. The phrase in very much in evidence -- what does it mean? I know Code Pink and Cindy Sheehan very well -- are they speaking "to people in power" or to "gain power"? Or something else?
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Warpy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-28-08 10:19 PM
Response to Reply #3
5. Power exists independently of the people who wield it
Edited on Fri Mar-28-08 10:22 PM by Warpy
as evidenced by the way those people can be changed around by elections, by economic disaster, and by getting their paws caught in the cookie jar.

Therefore, it's POWER that we speak truth to, no matter which face it is wearing that day, because POWER always tries to suppress any truth which threatens its existence.
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babylonsister Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-28-08 10:26 PM
Response to Reply #3
7. They tell the truth to people in power, regardless of the consequences. nt
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flowomo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-28-08 10:39 PM
Response to Reply #7
9. yes, I went and looked it up...
according to one source:

The phrase "speaking truth to power" goes back to 1955, when the American Friends Service Committee published Speak Truth to Power, a pamphlet ii at proposed a new approach to the Cold War. Its title, which came to Friend Milton Mayer toward the end of the week in summer 1954 when the composing committee finished work on the document, has become almost a cliche; it has become common far beyond Quaker circles, often used by people who have no idea of its origins. (One current example: Anita Hill entitled her memoir of her sensational charges of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, Speaking Truth to Power.)

To speak truth to power sounds so much like an integral part of Quakerism that some modem Friends have simply assumed the phrase goes back to the seventeenth century rather than arriving late in the middle of ours. It reflects what many contemporary Friends would like to believe is the characteristic Quaker stance toward political authority, hallowed in practice if not the exact words. Yet in its origins it was a political statement, entitling an explicitly political document.

Our confusion about this phrase and what we think it represents is what makes Hans A. Schmitts book, Quakers and Nazis: Inner Light in Outer Darkness such relevant reading for Friends. A Frankfurt-born historian, who retired at the beginning of this decade from a productive career at the University of Virginia, Schmitt has told a compelling story about how the tiny German Yearly Meeting responded to monstrous evil.

http://www2.gol.com/users/quakers/living_the_truth.htm
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TygrBright Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-28-08 10:02 PM
Response to Original message
2. "Speak truth to power": No matter what it costs you.
Do not lie to ingratiate yourself with those who have power.

Do not prevaricate to protect yourself from those who have power.

Do not remain silent to avoid confrontation with the powerful.

Do not exaggerate to gain the attention of the powerful.

It is not an easy thing, to speak truth to power.

Power rarely hears truth.

Power hears what it wants to hear, and would make that the truth.

Those who persist in speaking truth to power rarely prosper.

somberly,
Bright
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flowomo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-28-08 10:16 PM
Response to Reply #2
4. so, it means "speak your truth to the powerful"?
n/t
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OlderButWiser Donating Member (389 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-28-08 10:24 PM
Response to Original message
6. Never heard of the saying before
is it regional?
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tomreedtoon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-28-08 10:36 PM
Response to Original message
8. I always thought it meant "Speak truth in the face of power."
That is, speak truth in the face of powers that would deny the truth. Don't be cowardly, don't mince words. It's an exhortation to personal courage.
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Dogmudgeon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-28-08 10:42 PM
Response to Original message
10. Sadly, it has become a hipster clich
It used to mean to talk back and hold the powerful responsible for their duplicity. "Speak the truth the those in power" is the "correct" version.

Secondarily, when power was just, it meant to speak as a peer to power.

It now means, "I'm right, you're wrong" or "I'm better than you are".

The context is important. Some still use it correctly, but it's getting to be like calling someone you disagree with a "fascist".

--p!
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