I think many of us naturally dislike confrontation. When faced with a thorny issue, or something deeply personal, we tense up and are unaware of how to react. It's easy then to take a passive approach and let the moment pass. You can't make a wrong decision if you make none at all.
The same thing can occur when we witness difficult discussions. We naturally prefer to not get involved or end the discussion completely. Why disrupt the peace?
In many cases, de-escalation and avoidance is the right decision. It's important to tell when a confrontation won't serve any purpose. But how do you spot the confrontations that are worth getting involved in?
There are a few characteristics I think might separate the two.
1. Will the confrontation help bystanders?
There are many tough discussions that are worth tackling because the process can help others. Discussions about race are taboo in many places, and many avoid it. But through having discussions you understand each side better and onlookers feel empowered to use their voice.
2. Will the other side listen?
This is the hardest one to spot. Many are adept at appearing open to new ideas but really aren't. Listening doesn't mean that they will change their opinions but it's being willing to empathise with someone's point of view without dismissing it.
Still, it's difficult to work up the courage and will to get involved in these types of discussions. It's so much easier to just stay out of it. But maybe we'd all get along better if we just got the difficult conversations out of the way when possible.