Speaking Truth to Power At Any Age

Speaking truth to power no matter one’s age.


A young profile in courage.

“This is all wrong!” With these words, a 16-year-old has spoken truth to power at the UN. A profile in courage after the manner of a St. Joan of Arc who was her age dismissed and labeled as deluded when she spoke out.

Greta Thunberg’s words…

“I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones.

People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

“You say you ‘hear’ us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that. Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that.”

On another occasion, she said, “We are not the ones who are responsible for this, but we are the ones who have to live with these consequences, and that is so incredibly unfair.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg, with the conviction of a Joan of Arc, gave voice in the corridors of power of the hope of literally millions of children around the world who marched three days earlier calling for meaningful action on the almost irreversible threat of climate change. No doubt there will be strong reactions!

Another Profile in Courage – St. Vincent de Paul

St. Vincent de Paul had the courage to speak the truth to power.

While Vincent is best known for his practical works of charity, he also served as an advocate for the poor before the highest authorities, at times at considerable risk to himself. On two occasions he intervened personally to try to bring about peace when war was wrecking the lives of the poor. He went right to the top.

In 1649, during the civil war, Vincent left Paris quietly, crossed battle lines and forded a flooded river on horseback (at almost 70 years of age) to see the queen and to beg her to dismiss her Prime Minister, Cardinal Mazarin, whom he regarded as responsible for the war.

Soon after he was removed from the powerful Council of Conscience which was charged with giving advice to the King.

He also spoke directly to Cardinal Mazarin himself. But his pleas went unheeded. It is said that fearing for his life, he had to go into hiding for a period of time.

Vincent spoke the truth to power… and paid the price for the sake of the poor and afflicted.

What courage is in our profile?

All those involved in systemic change projects today emphasize the importance of advocacy and need to build a shared vision with diverse stakeholders: poor communities, interested individuals, donors, churches, governments, the private sector, unions, the media, international organizations, and networks, etc.

Is this not a time for all especially Vincentians to speak the truth to power? There are so many issues – climate change, inequality, nationalism…

Perhaps it is time to think about

Speaking our truth to power no matter our age…

  • Do we have the courage to speak for the voiceless?
  • What holds me back?
  • Who has inspired me personally as an example of speaking truth to power?

This reflection first appeared on

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