There was a time when my silence caused me pain. When speaking up felt too dangerous, too complicated.
My critter mind kept repeating, “Speaking up makes you a target. Be quiet.”
Fortunately, the critter and I have evolved and while it still likes to have its say, the voice of inner wisdom has the vote that counts.
And that vote is always to support me in living true to who I am. To my values, principles and beliefs.
Which is why the January Woman is such a powerful message for me.
My voice matters. Your voice matters. All our voices matter. Even those I don’t agree with. We all matter.
My job isn’t to teach others how to speak up. It’s to ensure that when I speak, my voice fosters truth, honesty, respect and kindness.
For years, I had a note posted above my desk that read: It’s my responsibility to turn up, pay attention, speak my truth (with loving-kindness) and stay unattached to the outcome.
Not always easy.
Sometimes, I want to scream at the world to stop being so blind, so cruel, so ugly.
Sometimes, I want my voice to matter more.
A few years ago, while doing community engagement work for a not-for-profit that managed housing for individuals exiting homelessness, I faced an angry crowd who had convened a Town Hall to share their opposition to the NFP’s apartment building in their community.
At our first meeting together I was confronted with about sixty people, the majority of whom did not want the people living in the apartment building anywhere near their families, homes, lives.
They screamed and yelled and threw insults while I stood alone at the front of the room.
Whenever I had the chance to speak, I calmly asked people to please not yell. “I can’t hear you when you yell,” I said. “And I really want to hear what you have to say.”
I repeated my request several times over the 2 hour meeting and while I can’t say it was easy, I do know it turned out better than if I’d put up a wall of defences around me, Stood in silence or yelled back or stormed out of the meeting.
My putting up a wall of defences would have prevented me from being present to their fear, confusion, worry, anxiety.
My standing in silence would have meant I was standing in fear which would have added to the fear already present in the room.
My yelling back would have inflamed the situation more as would walking out (though there were moments it was all I wanted to do).
Every voice in that room mattered. Every voice deserved to be heard — and the fact is – I can’t hear people when they’re yelling at me (I don’t think many of us can). My mind shuts down, my body tenses and my heart races as my fear rises up to swallow me whole.
I wasn’t there to stop people from speaking up.
I was there to create space for every voice to be heard. Including mine.
I was there to listen to everything they had to say. To their fears and concerns as well as their ideas on how ‘the problem’ could be fixed.
And while the solution was not what they originally wanted, (move out), over time, through keeping the conversation going, respectful interactions and opening up to possibility, the outcome became something far better than could have been imagined in that original meeting — a community where everyone felt safe. Where differences were accepted and where every voice mattered.
In the past, I have lowered my voice and stayed silent when fear engulfed me.
In the past, I have flung my anger at others like daggers to their heart.
In the past, I have used my voice without conscious choice.
Today, I choose to keep my voice raised to create a more loving and kinder world.
Today, I choose to drop the daggers and instead, fling my words out into the world like a fisherwoman casting a net of silk onto the seas full of the hope that what I cast out will calm turbulent waters and bring back to me tenfold what I send out. Love.