My granddaughter Cambria is almost six months old. She is at the developmental stage where she is discovering herself. One week her fascination is about her feet, and she pounds them constantly. The next week she discovers her tongue and she sticks it out non-stop, wagging it around.
Now she is finding that she has a voice. She is learning that she can make her voice loud and soft. She runs her voice up and down the scale and marvels at the different notes and tones she can create.
And she is learning that she can use her voice to get attention. Certain sounds draw reactions from other people – sometimes laughter, sometimes sympathy – always attention. She is discovering the power she has with her voice, and learning to use it to get things done.
This is a lesson we never stop learning. Your voice is a powerful tool, not only for your own self-preservation but also for taking care of others. You use your voice to teach, to learn, to defend, to promote – it is impossible to be in community without speaking up and speaking out.
In The Gifts of Community:Changing Your Life by Changing Your World Chapter 6 is about how we can use the gift of our voice in the service of others. I also talk about how our culture has diminished this power by destructive criticism of those who speak out, and pervasive disinterest in listening to and trying to understand opinions different than those of our own. You may be reluctant to speak out about something that matters to you because of this. Why put it all on the line only to be ridiculed or ignored?
You were not given the gift of voice to stay silent. Your voice is an important catalyst in the evolution of community – and you won’t find peace until you say what you are supposed to say and commit to open and respectful dialogue with others.
If you’ve been quiet for awhile and are ready to discover your voice again, you can start small and easy. Here are some baby steps for finding your voice.
• Begin by listening. Listen carefully to people who have opinions that are different than your own. Use your journal to write down the things they say that bother you the most. Endeavor to understand the heart of their issue, and search for common ground.
• Find a trusting ear. Seek out a mentor, friend, or spiritual advisor that you can trust to listen to the words you have been longing to say. Speaking them aloud in a safe space, even if there is only one person there, can be empowering.
• Try microblogging. Float out your mini-voice through a social media outlet like Facebook or Twitter. You have the power to delete the message if it gets too scary. Remember to focus on the positive, and you will receive positive in return.
• Be creative. Your voice can be expressed through art, photography, music – use your talents to say what you need to say. Some creative work can even be published under a pseudonym.
• Write a letter. Get everything out on paper, just go for it, no holds barred. No one else needs to see what you write but you. Articulating your thoughts will help you not only refine your message, but also gather the courage to share it with others.
Don’t be silenced by fears that to make a difference your voice has to be used in very public venues. I’ve seen the gift of voice used most powerfully by people who are quiet, unassuming, and thoughtful. Your voice wants to be heard, but it won’t ask you to move beyond your comfort level to be expressed.
Using your voice is something you were born to do. Like baby Cambria, you can start small, learn and grow from there. It’s never too late to make a difference.