I auditioned for a choir when I was 10; just me and the choir director huddled in a small room. I was so nervous, I could barely hold it together. She asked me to sing “Silent Night!”.” I don’t think she appreciated my literal interpretation of “silent.” After about 10 seconds of my measlie mezzo rendition, she said, “You can begin any time.” I was mortified and fled the room. It took me a while to find my voice after this setback. Thankfully now I can belt out a mean tune, at least in the shower.
Many of us have to overcome negative experiences, or more to the point negative and critical self image, to truly find our voice. You know when you haven’t found it because you still hear the echo of ancient fear haunting your words. Words get stuck in your throat, or have to battle to get past your tongue, to claim their freedom. When you find it, it’s like a bird that finds an open window after being trapped in a house. This when the truth sets you free.
When it comes to tough truth, the sort of truth that others find hard to handle, you really need to hear yourself clearly and compassionately to persevere.
There’s an awesome quote from George Bernard Shaw about telling the truth. Before sharing the quote, the context is important. It comes in the middle of some dialogue in Annajanska, set in the Russian Revolution in 1919. The people were revolting against a cruel monarch. A conversation takes place between a general who is blindly loyal to the monarch and the daughter of the king who wants to see change and is prepared to speak up against her family. She says,
All great truths begin as blasphemies.
It’s a powerful statement, and it’s been my experience too. Great truths, even some small truths, begin as blasphemies; like a round earth, racial and gender equality and spirituality without religion. As the philosopher Schoperhauer said,
Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized. In the first, it is ridiculed, in the second it is opposed, in the third it is regarded as self-evident.
The shooting of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan was a wake up call for all of us to keep telling the truth, to protect the rights of others to tell the truth, and to amplify the voice of people like Malala with our own words. It’s an amazing story. Malala, whose name poignantly means “grief stricken” was 11 when she found her voice. She lives in an area controlled by Taliban, who banned girls from attending schools and even destroyed many schools. Malala’s father always knew her daughter had an important role to play, and allowed her to stay up late at night, talking politics even after her older brothers had gone to bed. At age 11, Malala began writing about the oppression against girls in a BBC blog. She even won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. As retribution, last week she was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen and is still in a critical condition. Taliban officials are vowing to finish the job.
We need to make her story OUR story. Most of us will never experience oppression and pain like this young girl, but we all have our own battle with oppressive forces inside and out that threaten to destroy our freedom. We can relate in some small way, and amplify her truth.
If I have learnt anything from my life experience, gained any strength from my battle with inner and outer demons, it forms my truth and releases my voice. I offer it in honor of Malala. The same ideology that shoots a 14 year old girl, forces LGBT people to deny their sexuality, denies women their reproductive rights, protects the wealthy and blames the poor for their plight, and denies health care and education to those who need it most.
I have learnt from experience that speaking plainly like this brings discomfort to some and draws criticism from others. So be it. I am convicted to speak up because there is no reason in this day and age why a 14 year old girl would be shot on her school bus simple because she wants an education. It’s a freedom that ALL girls should have, no matter where they live or how much money they have. Now Malala has, hopefully only temporarily, had her voice taken from her.
It’s time for those of us with relatively comfortable lives and easy freedom to speak for her and with her.
If you agree with me, or more to the point if you agree with Malala, raise your voice. Speak up. Stand up for her rights.
No matter what groups like the Taliban do, keep speaking truth that matters. No matter who tries to silence you because they can’t handle your truth, stay strong.
Believe the words of Mahatma Gandhi,
When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.