Shut Up and Say Something

At 4:06 am on Thursday October 29, 2015 I awoke panicked. It was 4 hours and 24 minutes before I was set to give the keynote at the Florida Supportive Housing conference. I had a presentation locked and loaded. There were some of the greatest hits from previous conferences contained therein. But I was unsettled.

See, it was the 13th keynote I was about to give in this calendar year. The net result of my actions felt like a whole pile of nothingness. It was time to be more authentic. It was time to be more vulnerable. It was then I accepted the privilege of speaking to others and sharing my thoughts, means I have to shut up and say something. No words, jokes or provocative statements just for getting a reaction any more, I would chose words and phrases precisely to not only burn an indelible mark into the consciousness of the listener, but to inspire them to take action.

We spend most of our lives figuring out what we don’t want. We bet the odds. We play it safe. We avoid failure as best we can. On a long enough timeline, we all fail. However, some are so risk adverse that their life is filled with more “what ifs” than incidents of failure. We all know failure nonetheless. The more authentic and vulnerable we become in sharing what we really think and feel to move towards collective action, the more we risk failure. Here is to failing forward as authentically and vulnerably as possible.

Lessons have been burned into my memory over the years. Each failure and setback seems to etch into my memory more. My failures are the best way for me to mark the passage of time. And this means that I choose to look forward rather than backwards. Two reasons for this: 1) I don’t have a time machine; 2) It is too painful to keep wishing somehow the past could be different.

My ego and pride work against me. I have a passion for justice that can come across as arrogance when not framed correctly. I fight multiple fights at once and seem to scrap relentlessly. It seems to be the adult manifestation of a lifetime of dust-ups and donnybrooks. I have been known to bully others with my intellect and/or years of well-honed debating skills. And while this type of conflict makes me feel alive (pain and pleasure are both solid reminders) it is all exhausting and not at all productive. My feelings get reduced to a sound bite for others to use. Instead of people working to implement ideas built upon years of hard work, thinking and research, people want to resist the messenger.

The truth is, if you look over my career you would find that my ideas have been malleable. I have learned to listen, reflect, change and grow. I have never just bought a jar of bullshit to be convinced that I need something or to think a certain way. I love being inspired and learning and rethinking what I have held to be true only to be convinced I am still on the right path or that I need to change my path. My life can be framed as active resistance to stand in line with monotony waiting to be told what is right or wrong. I have had an unrelenting crush on perfection, but never had the courage to ask perfection out on a date. But each time I take a step closer to that pursuit, I learn something more about my self and what I have to offer the world.

I have accepted, on some level, that the report card of my life will likely have comments like, “Iain does not work well in groups”. On one level that is true. I have struggled to suffer fools lightly my whole life. That is more my personality than a wilful or intentional response. On another level, anyone that I have truly been authentic and vulnerable with – and who has honoured and cherished what has been shared – are people with whom I am now fiercely loyal. My brokenness has been made whole through others sharing their brokenness with me. I have mastered the art of living my life out loud, with the debris of my thoughts scattered through speeches and blogs and social media. I will probably never know how far I have come because I am always on the go. But instead of seeing this all as waste or fuel for fighting, I need to harness all of this to be more positive and influential in my pursuits to change the world.

Atonement is a sacrifice of pride. It is a small price to pay when one considers the 29,000 or so days of a lifetime. I can accept that atonement is a sum worth paying, as painful as it may be to pay it out. If I have offended you, I apologize. No excuses. And chances are I will never know the entire universe of people that I have offended. If you have been offended by me, chances are you are not alone. We could create an entire community of people that have been offended by Iain.

I accept that I will be hated. There will always be haters. Hatred is the child of the hater. If I am going to be hated then I am going to be who I need to be. That means saying what is important to say. This is not always what will be what people want to hear. But if I am going to shut up and something, then I have to make the choice to say the things that actually need to be said – even if those things are hated or lead to hatred. For that I do not apologize. This will not be sensationalism. This will be authenticity cast out into the world through the cannon of my heart. I will fear the hater because I cannot control that person. I cannot control hatred because I know it to exist. I can choose how to respond to hatred because that comes from a gift of grace and resistance that I still struggle to learn.


My entire life has been a struggle to fit in. It will likely remain as such. There are people I genuinely like and trust, but they are few. It is not that I am suspicious of others or their motives. It is that too few times in my life have I felt it okay to be truly emotionally vulnerable. Authenticity is hard. Vulnerability, for me is even harder.

But if I am going to speak…if I am going to raise my voice…if I am going to embrace each audience I am given, then I need to take the time to reflect, centre myself, consider and reconsider each point I want to express, then shut up and say something. What I stand for informs what I have made a decision to stand against. I appreciate that I have to do a fair amount of self-reflection in order to truly appreciate what I am standing for (and against). I can do this in a way that is not deliberately offensive or provocative, but rather sincere and honest. This is the voice that needs to be amplified and shared with authenticity and vulnerability. This is what I need to be yelling from rooftops as I shut up and say something.

I will always be a work in progress. I am choosing to progress towards not just making sound or noise, not just inspiring fury and reaction, and not just provoking a response from others. I am choosing to shut up the nonsense and to actually say something.

I hope you hear it.

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About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.

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