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  • Writer's pictureBarry Shirley


Hi Guys. In this May 2022 blog (Issue 28) I contemplate the subject of ‘Speaking Truth to Power’.

As in my previous blogs, I will draw on the views and opinions of past and current masters, sages, mystics, gurus, philosophers and generally wise people. I also tap into worldly belief systems, religions and philosophies to draw on ancient knowledge and wisdom. So, if you are beginning to realise there is more to this life than you think, and you have the merest hint of something happening in yourself – read on.

These monthly blog posts are designed for those interested in mindfulness/spirituality/philosophy and will only give you a taste of the information, knowledge and wisdom that is out there (and all points raised can easily be further researched). I will also include text from my previous blogs as appropriate.

Speaking Truth To Power is generally described as a non-violent political tactic, employed by dissidents against the propaganda of governments they regard as oppressive, corrupt, authoritarian or have an anti-humanist or climate denying ideocracy.

Because of modern social media and 24-hour news we are thrown into the worlds’ hotspots of death, destruction, injustice and despair which leaves most reeling from the horror of it all. We might feel helpless for situations out of our control, but is there anything we can do for the situations that we do have some control over or say in?

The concept of Speaking Truth To Power, variously described as “seeking a just and truthful world”, has been around since the history of governing people began. There is much written about the subject which has screamed again to prominence given the power modern social media has given to just about anyone who wants to influence human behaviour for their own means (e.g. social media is as dangerous as the street!).

I have previously covered the aspects of modern propaganda (misinformation, censorship, disinformation and lies intended to deceive) and the so called ‘fake news’ phenomenon in the context of internet-based media platforms. Please check out my previous blog posts on ‘Deep Fake Humanity’ (issue 26) – ‘How False and Misleading Information Can Affect Our Human And Spiritual Experience’ (issue 23) – ‘Resisting Fake News’ (issue 15) and, ‘Using Hindu Philosophy To Understand The Concept of Fake News’ (issue 11).

As you can see, I may be preoccupied with these aspects, but it’s essential to understand how our own subjective truth is formed from our own perceptions. If we are going to speak out or Speak Truth To Power, we must be as correct, logical, reasoned and as balanced as we can be. We must get it right for our own humanity’s sake, well-being and self-care, as so many people have suffered for speaking out. But more importantly, the persuasive power of propaganda should never be underestimated.

The phrase ‘Speaking Truth to Power’ first came to prominence in 1955 by the American Quakers who as the ‘American Friends Service Committee’ (AFSC) published a pamphlet essentially about pacifism and an alternative to violence (focussing on the Cold War at the time). In particular it sought “to give practical demonstration to the effectiveness of love in human relations”. This group were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 in recognition of their war relief efforts for refugees of the 2nd World War. Speak Truth to Power: a Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence,

Many have used the concept to seek justice and a fairer world, including Mahatma Gandhi (1869/1948) who used a non-violent tactic called satyagraha (Sanskrit word meaning ‘truth force’), to galvanise Indian independence from the British Empire. Gandhi was prominent as an Indian lawyer who, in India and South Africa, during the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s first employed nonviolent resistance in a campaign for civil rights. He was considered the Father of the Indian Nation for leading successful nonviolent campaigns for India’s independence from the British Raj. He was imprisoned many times in India and South Africa.

As well as the concept of satyagraha, he employed the ancient Indian Vedic concept of Ahimsa in his campaigns (the Vedas date back 4,000 years). Ahimsa is also a Sanskrit word meaning ‘absence of injury’ or ‘non harm’. The sage Patanjali compiled the ‘8 limbed Yoga sutras’ sometime around 350 CE which included Ahimsa in its ethical, moral and societal guidelines.

These guidelines are an important spiritual doctrine shared by Hindu, Buddhism and Jainism followers where kindness and compassion were a given. Yoga is a Sanskrit word means ‘to join’ or ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’ and leads to the union of individual consciousness to that of the Universal Consciousness. Thus, indicating a perfect harmony between the mind and body, Man and Nature. Patanjali, some two centuries after Jesus, indicates that failure to follow the guidelines will result in much suffering for an individual.

Bayard Rustin was an African American leader in civil rights and a public advocate for non-violence and gay rights. He was a humanitarian and pioneer of civil rights. It is reported that he assisted the writing of the pamphlet for the aforementioned AFSC after completing an activist program with them and was a great advocate for speaking truth to power.

Most people may have an example of how they have spoken truth to power or moved away from it because of a fear or respect for the power being confronted. No one really has a monopoly on the truth and as Aristotle said, “the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know.” It is also dependent on whether you are living in a democracy or an authoritarian regime and whether you are willing, on certain occasions, to put yourself in harm’s way for your views.

And, it mainly depends on how you perceive yourself in ‘having the courage of your convictions’, from your inner conviction of moral truth, as it were. I have certainly noticed that the younger, tech savvy, generations have a better ‘speaking up’ culture than older ones.

There is an emerging aspect of these younger tech savvy generations in regard to journalism for instance. In Italy there are a number of new media outfits that concentrate on gaining the truth from long term journalistic investigations (evolving initially from social media to mainstream media). One such outfit, called now strikes at the heart of misused political power, mobsters and criminal organisations that could not be covered effectively before.

The majority of Fanpage’s journalists and editors are under 30 years old – “Fanpage’s merit is that of having reached that vast demographic of young disillusioned readers who didn’t follow the established dailies because they had no intention of reading daily news … we knew that if we wanted to include them, we had to speak their language. Covering political or financial issues means having an awareness that there are readers who may have never heard some if the technical terminology.”

Malala Yousafzai is a powerful contemporary example of speaking truth to power. She was shot in the head in 2012 for her activism on behalf of women’s education in Pakistan. She survived, spoke truth to power by standing up to the oppressive Taliban in her country, and won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 at just 17 years of age.

There are too many non-violent dissidents to mention. Topically, many are from modern day Russia where censorship, state media, ‘big brother’ patriotic programs and propaganda influences the population. Alexei Navalny is a Russian opposition leader, lawyer, and anti-corruption activist. He galvanised dissent against Russian President Vladimir Putin and endeavoured to run for office on an anti-corruption platform.

He has since allegedly been poisoned by the State and is currently in prison in Russia. He has been awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought for his work on human rights. The Sakharov prize was named after Russian scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov. The prize was established in December 1988 by the European Parliament and the first prize was awarded jointly to South African Nelson Mandela and Russian dissident Anatoly Marchenko.

As I contemplate this subject and compile information, I was reading my daily receipt of the ‘Daily Stoic’ email (6 April) which quite coincidentally was about people expressing their adversity through their own perceptions and, as suggested, prevents us all from being complacent about the truth.

The contents of the email are produced as follows: “The last few years have shown us aspects of humanity, not-small parts of society, that repulse many of us. The events that have come to define these years have revealed the racists and the treasonous, the callous and the stupid. We’ve watched nihilists burn down our buildings and try to shut down our governments. We’ve watched anti-vaxxers and COVID-deniers overwhelm our hospitals and morgues. We’ve watched the self-righteous and the out-of-touch embarrass themselves with stupid slogans and impossibly wrongheaded policies. And? This surprises you? You need to remember: These people have always existed. Every era has had them. But more than that, as the Stoics would remind you, every era must have them.

All of us are working on the same project,” Marcus Aurelius writes in Meditations.

“Some consciously, with understanding; some without knowing it. Some of us work in one way, and some in others. And those who complain and try to obstruct and thwart things…the world needs them too.”

The world needs these types for many reasons. First, because a diversity of opinion is, in the aggregate, better than homogeneity. Second, because the obnoxious and the shameless and the evil do more for us than we think. They remind us of what virtue is. They give us something to struggle against. They prevent us from becoming complacent. They illustrate the terrible costs of being like them. They are, as Marcus Aurelius’ famous passage about obstacles was written about, the adversity that shows us the way.

By all means, fight against them. By all means, denounce what they represent. Just don’t buy the fantasy that they can ever be made to disappear. They can’t. And they shouldn’t. We need them. And they need us.”

The Daily Stoic is a great resource and helps in understand the tenets of Stoic philosophy which derived from ancient Greece and Rome in the early parts of the 3rd century, BCE. I.e. The Stoics elaborated a detailed classification of virtue (i.e. high moral standards), dividing virtue into four main types: wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation.

No one has complete answers for a perfect society and many formulas have been approached and tried in order to achieve utopia – a society in which everything is perfect; idealistic (this concept has been surprisingly tackled by so many great science fiction writers, always showing the obvious flaws of utopia in their novels).

Change is never straightforward and, of course, there will still be violent dissidents and demonstrations by those who think violence is the only way to seek change.

It might be best for people to first seek equanimity in their contemplation of what they perceive seeking the truth is or attempting to speak truth to power. Equanimity is a stage reached where one can filter out prejudices, expectations, fear, anger, greed. And, finding a neutral position without sharp judgements by firstly diminishing the ego and long held habitual thoughts (e.g. most of our suffering is self-inflicted because of the ego).

In actually seeking the ‘truth’ we can slightly deviate to consider the concept of what is the Absolute Truth. This concept has been spiritually considered by all of the world’s religions and belief systems. In Christianity, Jesus Christ says in the bible, “the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:31-32). In this context Jesus was explaining to the Jewish people the deeper power of the soul or life force and that, it is where the truth resides. Also explaining that we and everything in the universe are all the same of the same light of consciousness imbued with the same animating force (i.e. look within).

The ancient Hindu texts (the Vedas including the Gita) suggests the very same concept - the Absolute Truth is the source of everything – oneness – consciousness – the spirit - the cosmic soul - the Divine – the Godhead. And that human beings should seek this enlightenment of the Higher Self through defeating the ego and certain behavioural attitudes (samskara and vasanas) to complete the spiritual journey and escape the cycle of birth and death to achieve oneness (reincarnation – similarly described in Buddhism and Jainism).

The Bhagavad Gita identifies the Supreme Personality of Godhead as Krishna. The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Sanskrit Hindu teaching at least 3-5 thousand years old. The Gita basically denotes an allegorical battle between the forces of ego and the higher self, it does this with dialogue between Krishna, as the Supreme Soul teaching the warrior Arjuna (representing the best but flawed aspects of humanity) how to defeat the ego forces and discover the higher Self, (The Gita is considered a mostly secular practical guide on living a spiritual life. The entire text is a representation of the battle that goes on in our minds representing a blueprint for solving the ethical and moral struggles of human life).

Chapter 7 sloka 3 of the Gita states: “Among thousands of men scarce one strives for perfection; of those who strive and succeed, scarce one knows Me in essence.” The Parthasarathy translation encourages the Seekers of Truth and indicates that the cross section of humanity totally lacks interest in self-development and in Self Realisation…… they do not wish to pursue the Self because they lack the patience and perseverance to strive and struggle and wait

indefinitely for its long-term benefits (i.e. the Absolute Truth).


  • “Do not be silent; there is no limit to the power that may be released through you.” – Howard Thurman (1899/1981) African American author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader.

  • “In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” – And, “All the war propaganda all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.” George Orwell (1903/1950) – British Novelist, essayist, journalist.

  • “Truth is always the enemy of power. And power the enemy of truth.” - Edward Abbey (1927/1989) – American author, environmental activist. ·

  • “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does” – William James (1942/1910) – American philosopher and psychologist (‘father’ of American psychology).

  • “when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl (1905/1997) Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, author and Holocaust survivor.

Take away

  • Accept the inevitability of adversity – understand yourself and your perceptions – work through a filter to determine truth – take control of your choices but let your light shine.

  • Reunite with the Source (Higher Self) and the Absolute Truth will give you greater faculties to determine all forms of truth.

  • In a democracy (as in Australia) we have a better opportunity to speak out about many things including unjust power – we have freedom to debate, have opinions and influence things without the aspect of anger or harm being there - practice gratitude for these relative freedoms.

  • We are also privileged (in a democracy) to be able to vote to change aspects of society, government or leadership.

  • Embrace ahimsa and equanimity to engage with any obstacle in your path.

  • In terms of this overall subject – today we are all Ukrainians!

  • Also, try yoga, along with meditation to deal with adversity – a natural combination for overall well-being. If already practicing yoga and meditation – go deeper – both higher vibration activities!

Compiled by Baz Shirley.


*See also:

Instagram: @bazabstractart - Facebook: Barry Shirley

And all my previous posts on:

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