In 1970, Maggie Kuhn was forced to retire because she had reached the mystical age of 65. That arbitrary act spurred her into action at an age when many of her peers were settling into their quiet, “golden years.” She and a group of like-minded friends formed the “Gray Panthers,” an advocacy organization for those deemed “elderly.”
Her advice to people to create change was simple. “Leave safety behind … Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind — even if your voice shakes … And do your homework.”
One of the most common roadblocks I hear that keeps people — and especially women — from speaking up is fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of pushback. Fear of offending someone. Fear that no one will listen. Fear that no one will take you seriously. Fear of being vulnerable.
And you know what? You’re right. It is scary to speak up, especially on things that matter deeply. Do it anyway. Brené Brown notes that “You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.” Be courageous. Be vulnerable. It’s OK to do things scared.
Eleanor Roosevelt understood that nay-sayers, skeptics and critics are a part of life. She said “Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway.”
How, then, do you find your voice and how do you begin using it?
There are so many ways. What are you passionate about? What keeps you up at night? Children being kept in cages on the border? No place for those experiencing homelessness to transition into? Millions of pills being prescribed in an opioid epidemic? Suicide? Your own or someone else’s trauma? “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” says Reverend Desmond Tutu.
Share what moves you to tears — of anger, sorrow or joy. I am positive you will find that you are not alone.
Life coaches often ask “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” What policies would you change? What would you eliminate from this world? What would you pursue whole-heartedly, even if it took decades? Like the women who devoted their lives to working towards women’s suffrage or the Carter Center that has undertaken the herculean task of eliminating Guinea worm disease worldwide, what seemingly impossible task would you conquer?
Or, maybe what speaks to your heart are things that don’t feel so grandiose. Helping neighbors not go hungry. Being a support to someone who is grieving. Helping one person decide to stay in their bodies. All of those things matter. Your voice matters.
What is the best way to share your message? Anyway you can.
You can blog or vlog. Do Facebook or Instagram live videos. Speak to other people, individually, in small groups or in large venues. Write letters to the editor and longer opinion pieces. Show up to city council and legislative hearings, PTA meetings and coordinating councils. Connect with traditional media. Share your own story. Share other’s stories. Teach classes or workshops, online or in-person. Amplify others with whom you agree. Be like Samwise Gamgee who couldn’t carry the One Ring — but he could carry the ring-bearer. The more you share your voice, the stronger and less shaky it will become.
Audre Lorde, another outspoken activist said “I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.”
Who needs your voice today?
Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, is amazed at the results the Carter Center has seen. When they began their work in 1986, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases of Guinea worm disease worldwide. Last year, there were 28.