David Carr and the Power of Voice

by Lane Wallace on March 2, 2015

A few days after the sudden death of New York Times columnist David Carr (referenced in my last post), the paper ran a final column, pulled from comments and curriculum notes Carr made in a class he was teaching at Boston University. The class, titled “Press Play,” focused on “making and distributing content in the present future we are living through.”

Technology is always a double-edged sword. For all the possibilities the new media offers us in terms of expression and access, the pressure to write shorter, “buzzier” and less deeply-considered pieces for quick regurgitation is huge, compared with what it was even 15 years ago. So kudos to Carr for trying to embrace all those new possibilities while still preserving a sense and thirst for quality thinking and writing in his students. But what really struck me, in reading the piece, was how much he stressed the concept of “voice” to his students.

The importance of each of our authentic inner voices is something I write about often here, of course. Voice, passion, mission and an embrace of adventure are the elements I believe are most central to having both a rewarding and robust life and having real impact on the world. Evidently Carr subscribed to at least some of the same philosophy.

Carr’s students talked about how he’d ask them about their personal experiences, and then say, “Who you are and what you have been through should give you a prism on life that belongs to you only … These are things you have that no one else does, and you should channel that.”

That is, in a nutshell, the concept of voice: the expression of your most authentic, unique self. Other people may be smarter, richer, more talented, better looking, or more successful, but no one else has your experiences, your history, your talents, your particular values, passions, and way of viewing the world … or the product of all that, which is your voice. And bringing that voice into our work and life is the strongest and most valuable gift each of us has to give the world. What’s more, being guided by that voice in your work and the world gives you a kind of unshakable strength that allows you to have a powerful impact in what you do.

Women may struggle more than men to find and express that voice confidently and outwardly, but each of us has a unique, authentic inner voice. And it is the task of each and every one of us to find it, channel it, and figure out how to bring it into the world in a meaningful way. Writers, of course, take that task a little more literally (no pun intended) than others. But the point remains valid, no matter what a person’s position or profession is in life. Very few people achieve happiness or a sense of real fulfillment without accomplishing that difficult but essential task.

A fulfilling life is also one in which a spirit of adventure–of embracing new experiences and knowledge–never dies. And impact is partly dependent on the enthusiasm and passion with which you approach any endeavor. So worth noting, too, is that the university class Carr was teaching, at the age of 57, was his first foray into teaching. Clearly, a passion for new experiences, and new explorations, was alive and well in him. And, as he told his students the first day of class, “I care deeply that I do a good job in all endeavors, especially this one.”

Care deeply. Pursue quality. Embrace new experiences and surprises. And devote enough energy to exploring yourself to find, channel, and express your most authentic, powerful inner voice. As prescriptions for a robust, rewarding and enthusiastically lived life go, it’s a pretty powerful list. And Carr’s untimely death, at 57, is a sharp reminder that we don’t have forever to get going on trying to build a richer and more rewarding life, if we’re not already where we want to be.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rodger Baldwin 03.14.15 at 9:55 am

Great post. The last few posts have given me a lot to think about. I came to your site because I just read your last column in Sport Aviation magazine. I’m going to miss hearing your voice there. I think you had a way of expressing what I and many others, feel in a way that let me show someone your column and say, “See, it’s like that… flying is for me about more than the machine or the risks or the ego or the joy. It’s about being alive and questing and seeking adventure and feeling gratitude for the beauty of the earth and the sky and the people in my life.” Although I’ll miss your writing there, I’m glad I found you here and I wish you well with the new adventures to come.

2 Steve Stroh 03.14.15 at 5:07 pm

Clap. Clap. Clap. Slow… muted… clapping. One of the most profound insights ever stated. The ONLY thing we ever have to offer to our fellow human beings on this voyage through our shared existence, in this short span of the 21st century… is OUR voice. How it seems… to US. Why such and such matters… is relevant… to US. One of the toughest things to us as human beings is to see something… to think something… and wonder… is it just ME? To find someone else that sees the same thing… that thinks the same thing… that experiences the same thing… that’s a magical, mystical connection. So… attaboy David and Lane for bringing this out into the open. David… you rocked. Rest in Peace. Lane, you (still) rock! Keep at it, keep stirring us… in aviation… and in the basic business of being an observant human. GodSpeed to you.

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