Getting Our Voices Heard

by Lane Wallace on March 26, 2018

So, I’m closing in on the last chapter of my book on voice. And yes, it feels like the last five miles of an ultra-marathon. But the March for Our Lives, this past weekend, in which hundreds of thousands of young people and adults gathered in some 800 events across the country to protest gun violence and demand better gun control laws, has too much to say about voice to let it pass without comment.

For starters, there’s nothing like half a million people raising their voices in solidarity, out loud and at the same time, to demonstrate the power of voice. Literally. But it also illustrates an important point about voice that doesn’t usually get as much attention.

When we talk about “Finding our authentic voices,” we often visualize it as an individual, and deeply personal, endeavor. Being “ourselves.” Answering to our own inner compass and guide. Some of the people who argue that authenticity is a bad thing, in fact (and yes, there are some who make that argument), generally say that it’s a selfish and narcissistic goal; contrary to values of community. But in truth, developing an authentic voice and getting it heard in the world is very much about community.

To be sure, there are elements in the process of developing an authentic voice that require solitude and reflection. We have to learn how to become more self-aware, so we can hear what our inner voices are telling us. We have to confront inner fears and demons, and question the assumptions we’ve made about ourselves and our lives. Our voices are also formed through our interactions with the world; events, experiences, or activities that affect us or resonate with us strongly. Often, in fact, we only learn what matters most to us when something happens to bring that value into sharp relief in our lives.

So where does community come into it? Well, sometimes, the communities we’re a part of–schools, churches, neighborhoods, families, and friends–help give us the opportunities or experiences that show us who we are, who we can be, and what we do and don’t care about. But beyond that, strengthening an authentic voice and getting it heard in the world depends greatly on having a supportive community to validate, amplify, and help us use that voice to have impact on the world. [click to continue…]

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I‘m still on official book leave, working on my book about the power of authentic voice (hence the long spaces between posts on this site), but I’m expecting to have my manuscript done in the next 4-5 weeks, so posts should start coming more often soon!

But two things converged last week that seemed worth mentioning; two events that, even as they shared some characteristics, were also vastly different in tone and impact. And that’s what makes them interesting.

On one side of the world, the Winter Olympics were in full swing. Lindsey Vonn was fighting for last Olympic glory, the men’s curling team was hurtling toward unfathomable gold from hometowns in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and Jessie Diggins was defying a human’s need for oxygen on her gold-medal cross-country ski race. Not to mention the US Women’s hockey team, toughing it out through a sudden-death shoot-out round with Canada to eke out the team’s first first-place finish in 20 years.

There’s something remarkable about Olympic athletes, whom we all but forget about for the 3 years and 49 weeks in between Olympic competitions. Day after day, they get up, train, sacrifice, ache, hurt, and doggedly keep pushing themselves for a few seconds or minutes of glory, where they put it all on the line for the prize, with very little in between heady victory and crushing defeat.

In many ways, the Olympic athletes seem to personify the idea of passion; unimaginable sacrifice in pursuit of a dream from the heart that nothing can quench or stop. Their sport is their art; a real-world expression of an authentic passion, dream, and voice that demands to be heard in the world. Their determination and passion comes right through the television screen; breathtaking in its intensity, and almost envy-producing in its clarity. Who of us would be willing to make those sacrifices and bet so much on 90 seconds in a half-pipe or downhill racecourse? And yet, the end product is awe-inspiring not only in its audacity, but also in its beauty. This is passion draped in all the sparkle of sunlit snow, dazzling run times, and incredible aerobatics on thin blades of steel. No wonder we all dream of finding a passion that consuming!

Half a world away, there was also passion on display. But it wore a very different and grimmer face. One hundred high school students–survivors from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead–were boarding buses and traveling 450 miles to the state capital in Tallahassee, to demand that legislators pass stricter gun control laws. While the legislators seemed less than receptive to the students’ demands, the protest sparked other demonstrations and dominated the news cycles in a way other reactions to shootings had not. Part of the reason for that may have been timing: the many shooting deaths that had gone before, changing public opinion, and better-organized infrastructure to help spread the students’ impact beyond the borders of Florida. But part of it, unquestionably, was the raw, undeniable, and breathtaking passion that emanated from the students’ faces, actions, and words. This was not an act. This was authentic; passion from the heart. [click to continue…]

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