How and When to Call Someone Out

What parrhesia tells us about speaking up for yourself.

Philosophy says we should call people out.

In 1983, just a year before his death, Michel Foucault gave a series of lectures at Berkeley on a figure of speech called parrhesia. Think of it as a kind of fearless speech. You’re not trying to persuade anyone of something. But you need to speak a truth. Usually an unpopular one.

True parrhesia comes with a cost.

We’ve forgotten the wide middle ground between pushovers and bullies. Parrhesia can help with this problem.

Sometimes you shouldn’t be nice.

There’s never a reason to insult someone. It usually just distracts them from the point you want to make. That said, not everybody deserves that little dusting of sugar on your words. Simply withholding politeness delivers its own strong message.

Excuse me, could you take your phone outside?

Take your phone outside.

Hey, this is a library.

The first one might work depending on context. The second one would probably start some shit, since people don’t respond well to commands from strangers. The third one strikes a balance. It’s not a request, or a command. Just a statement of fact.

Don’t waste your fearless speech on trivia.

It’s popular now to go around speaking your mind. A third of the country thinks of political correctness as a strait jacket. But calling your opponents idiots and shouting racial slurs doesn’t count as parrhesia.

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