This week I made a phone call, the kind I haven’t made in a while – one of those challenging, truth-speaking, difficult-question-asking phone calls.
I wanted to know the truth about a complicated situation on a topic in which I am very involved and about which I am deeply passionate – sexual assault.
I was not stepping out of my lane, getting into anyone else’s business, or creating drama and intrigue.
I was fulfilling what I consider to be one of my most important roles in life – that of advocate.
My intention was to seek clarity and truth, to understand, and to offer counsel if I could.
The response I got from the person on the other end of the line was no surprise, really. Nothing changed, as far as I know.
But here’s the thing – how it went is not really important.
I may or may not have achieved my goals – I can’t really know.
There might be fallout from the conversation – I don’t really know.
Here’s what I do know – I did what was true for me, in the clearest, kindest, most truthful way I know how. I did not dissemble, euphemize, cajole, manipulate or apologize.
I said my piece, then listened to what the other person had to say. I asked some clarifying questions.
I asked them if they wanted to hear my suggestions. They did not, so I held my tongue. I thanked them and ended the call.
I did what I came to do and am satisfied with that.
Here’s what I don’t know – whether they heard anything I said. What they heard (because it’s filtered through their experiences, assumptions and fears.) Whether anything will change. Whether, in the bigger scheme of things, anything needs to change.
Perhaps you think that it’s only worthwhile to speak your truth if it’s guaranteed that the other person will fully hear you and change accordingly. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Perhaps you think it’s only safe to speak your truth if it’s guaranteed that the other person will still approve of you, still like you, still respect you – if it’s guaranteed that they won’t react “badly”, and if it won’t affect the relationship detrimentally.
None of these guarantees is possible.
What happens when we don’t speak for these reasons, though, is that there is a relationship that’s affected detrimentally. There is someone who will approve of you less and respect you less.
I know you can see what’s coming – dear one, it’s yourself.
This is not to say that we must go through life always declaring our opinions and judgments hither and thither, with no regard for what’s appropriate or timely. Not at all.
But when we make it a practice to stifle our voice – to shut ourselves down out of fear – we can erode the approval and respect we have for ourselves.
We might be afraid of relationships ending; we might be afraid of being disliked, or not being hired, or being shunned and gossiped about. These things are hard, no question.
If someone ends their relationship with us, dislikes us, fails to hire us, shuns us or gossips about us, because we speak our truth in kindness and clarity – what have we actually lost?
Not to be glib, because I know all too well how painful these things can be, but what actually happens is that we regain our own integrity and our self-respect.
As women, we hold ourselves responsible for the emotional heavy lifting. We hold ourselves responsible for keeping the peace. We hold ourselves responsible for appeasement and capitulation. (Not to say others don’t hold us to these standards too, because of course they do.)
So we don’t want to rock the boat, we don’t want to stand out or be different.
And when we don’t practice using our voice, we have more and more difficulty stating our wants and needs.
We hold ourselves back, until one day we realize we don’t have the life we want at all, and our actions have not served us at all.
We have become disconnected from what we want. We are incongruent and out of balance.
When you find yourself there, what can you do?
Sometimes, when we’re deciding whether, how or when to use our voice, our choice comes down to which sort of peace we want – the artificial sort, where we stay quiet to “keep the peace”; or true peace of mind, where we risk disapproval, but live in integrity and authenticity.
I know which one I choose.