No more silence

To what do you give voice? Do you lend it to further social justice goals, or for your own economic gain? Do you speak out to increase your political or social leverage, or to escape discomfort? Do you talk or write truth to power, or are silence and neutrality the way for you?

Consider this a plea to break out of passivity and into action — to no longer accept what’s unacceptable to you and the world. Or as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote in “We Should All Be Feminists”: “If we do something over and over again, it becomes normal. If we see the same thing over and over again, it becomes normal.”

Normal: It’s time for a makeover. Why wait even a second longer to demand changes to entrenched systems and institutions that work only for those who refuse to change them?

My friend told me recently the school her special-needs child attends does not want to teach him fundamentals, instead giving the child a fast pass to graduation. She rejected the fast pass and demanded the school teach her child by taking the time to break down concepts, because, she said, “He is capable of learning.”

Seems reasonable, doesn’t it?

Her insistence illustrates the difference between a hollow victory and a hard-fought win. Experience teaches us that doing hard things instills confidence in individuals, leaders and institutions. Thus, our tendency to give lip service rather than a hand, to refuse to accept responsibility, rather than own up to an error, to pass the buck versus pay one, to bury our heads in the sand instead of participating, may make our lives peaceful, but may also rob us of our ability to self-actualize. Each time we give ourselves, each other, a system or an institution a fast pass, we lose one of the greatest gifts of all – using our voices to shape our world.

Hey! Ho! Passivity has got to go!

“When you find something you’re passionate about, your voice finds you,” said Kate Bringardner, owner of the Speaker’s Studio, which she described as a space of leaders and speakers to practice the skills of great speaking. Bringardner combines coaching and improv to help  people put their best voice forward.

“The rest of us have to find our voice,” she said.

OK. How? “Improv is one of my favorite things to do,” said Bringardner. She teaches “particulars and content in coaching” but improv is what enables her students to develop an agile mind, she said. “With improv you get the feeling that enables you to be in front of an audience.”

Or in the case of Metro Councilman Dan Johnson, you get the feeling you’re watching the theater of the absurd.

One of the most egregious statements Johnson made recently in his defense of allegations of inappropriate touching and what we called “flashing” in my childhood, was that he did not recall his pants dropping.

Not that he doesn’t remember dropping his pants. But, that he doesn’t remember if his pants, by all accounts inanimate, passed into the garment space and time continuum and became animated. Power pants, Activate!

Dan. Dan. Dan. No. No. No.

I prep clients to testify and to answer questions on cross examination. The options I give for cross are: Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t remember. Give me a minute to think about it. I also tell them to keep their statements in the active voice, even if they’re victims, to help clarify for the court who the actors are, what their actions were and why they’re actionable.

The passive voice, like pants, doesn’t have any power. Passivity (or, worst of all, passive aggression) is a tool to shirk blame and responsibility and con either you or themselves into believing they didn’t do it and they can’t remember if their pants did it.

I want to force Johnson to use the active voice in his admission or denial of the allegations made against him. I want every perpetrator or predator or flasher or groper (or Congress members who voted to gut the Affordable Care Act) to choose “I” statements to explain events, rather than displaying cowardice by blaming an inanimate object or a supervening cause.

When you attempt to take someone’s power, be prepared for resistance. When a victim chooses to take their power back? Prepare to be awed. If the allegations against Johnson are true, his acts were aimed at seizing power, but they are costing him power, as his credibility and caucus seat are gone.

The lesson may very well be this: voices, and votes, carry.