Truth to Power

A friend of mine who is in an extended job search was talking to me a few weeks back about some interesting interview questions she’s been asked in her search. It was fun for me to go through the questions and see how fast I could come up with an answer to each one.

One completely stumped me, though. “Talk about a time you spoke truth to power.” ‘Power’ in this case being an employer or boss, of course.

It’s hard, telling bosses something they don’t want to hear. It’s even harder when it may not be entirely necessary to tell them. So I’ve been stewing on this question for weeks now, trying to figure out how I would answer if I was asked this in an interview. My guess is that the interviewers want to hear that you’re not afraid to say something a boss may not want to hear while also being professional and diplomatic about it. And despite wracking my brain, I’ve come up with nothing.

Well, not quite nothing.

As I was thinking this through I started looking into the origins of the phrase “speak truth to power,” to be sure that I correctly understood the usage of the phrase, and it seems to have a pretty interesting history! It was likely first recorded by Quakers in the 1950s in the book “Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence,” where it is cited as being an old Quaker saying (though no source is identified). Others credit it to Bayard Rustin, a black civil rights activist, who recorded it in 1942 (but these papers were only published posthumously, hence the Quakers getting credit for it).

According to the most reliable source on the internet,, it was used as a call against fascism and totalitarianism, and draws parallels between the American Revolution and the act of speaking truth to power.

So there, you learn something new every day! I love the ways in which we can find history in virtually anything,

Though this search for the history of the phrase didn’t bring me any closer to an answer, it was an interesting little search all the same. Who would’ve thought a hypothetical job interview would lead me to Quakers, fascism, and the American Revolution?


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