Saturday, January 16, 2010

Reminder: If you have a voice, then use it.

The only thing I’m afraid of is - not doing what I came here to do.

One of my cherished mentors calls me a woman with cojones.

I tend to cry when I speak out. It's a little embarrasing sometimes - more for the audience, I think, than for me. Before an important speech, I often pray that I don't cry. My husband suggests, if it makes me feel better, that I warn the audience that I am very passionate and might cry. It's just that I do care so much about what I am doing and what I am saying that my heart opens really wide and I start to feel it heating up my whole body and the whole room. I don't even care if I come off as weak or naive or whatever. It's being cynical, jaded, despairing or apathetic that I want to keep at bay.

Columnist Connie Schultz reminds us...

"A lot of them are mighty nervous -- at least at first. They remind me of what I always told my children when they were scared: Act brave even if you're not, and the courage will come. Turns out it works at any age.

So often, a woman will approach me before I give a talk and tell me she could never get up in front of all those people. Whenever that happens, I remind her of what Gray Panthers founder Maggie Kuhn said: Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.

If you've never heard Kuhn's words before, you might have the same response I had the first time I heard it. It hits you, doesn't it? Right there. Suddenly, you have permission not to be perfect or polished or even particularly brave. It's not who hears you that matters. It's the speaking up that'll save you every time.

And here's the thing about that shaky voice. People will listen anyway. I see it time and time again as I travel the state and meet women who just can't be silent any longer. One woman in particular has wedged her way into my memory. She is a middle-aged mother whose son recently returned safely from Iraq. But he came home to a different mother. It isn't enough that her son survived. She wants all the troops to come home. And so she wears a T-shirt that identifies her as the mother of an Iraq War veteran, and she shows up at event after event, forcing herself to talk to rooms full of people she knows won't all agree with her.

"My voice is not real strong, and it usually shakes," she said softly as she grabbed my hand before speaking. "But sometimes. Sometimes, I think if I don't speak out? Well, I'm afraid I will lose my mind."

A few minutes later, she took the stage. Her voice shook that night, just as she feared, and she stumbled over her words a few times as she shifted from side to side.

But for the entire time that she spoke, her soft, trembling voice was the only sound in the room."

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