Speaking truth to power refers to those brave souls who go up against some entrenched power armed only with the truth. Since democracy’s beginning, this kind of truth-speaking has been honoured. In Greek, it is called parrhesia, which Michel Foucault (Fearless Speech, Semiotext(e) 2001) has characterised as “frankness in speaking the truth”. The citizen parrhesiastes says what’s on his mind and identifies himself as the one who knows this truth that he speaks. Parrhesia finds fault with someone powerful; it is always dangerous and risky; it responds to a sense of moral duty.
No question about it: responsibility is a burden. It reins in our freedom and threatens our pleasant sense of innocence. On the face of it, responsibility is anything but desirable. We are tempted to wriggle out of it: that’s not my fault or my department or my problem. At the same time, responsibility gives us a sense of worth, gravity and seriousness. In community, we depend upon others to shoulder the responsibility that is proper to each. But how do we know what that is?