ALL THE SHOUTING IN THE WORLD WON’T MAKE YOU LISTEN…but if you really, truly heard, would it inspire you to speak?
What is it that needs to change? What compels us turn a deaf ear, a blind eye, and a cold shoulder to situations where our voices, used correctly, could be game-changers? All the Bads of the world need people to combat them, but how do we muster the gumption? Do we need to make a fundamental change, or, like Dorothy’s Lion, will we find we had the courage all along?
Childhood isn’t a place I like to dwell on. I could cherry-pick you an idyll, selected memories – breadcrumb moments of light and enjoyment – which kept me going, somehow, just enough for me (and presumably others) to remain silent and largely unquestioning. I could gloss over the abuse, the neglect, the settings-up-to fail, the constant undermining attacks on child-me. I could sell you a story of Silver Linings – of acceptance(ish) of what went before, and how it all counted as a yellow brick road to the person I’m Becoming.
I could reach out a muddied hand from the quagmire of my blighted past, pouring your ears full of turbid tales of isolation, humiliation, daily bullying from almost all corners, and the resultant mess, which looked like a girl but was a snail-shell, filled to the brim with fear, anger, and bad behavior – within, a tiny, shivering, broken self. I could tell you of the slog, the stoicism, of just existing day to day. Of losing myself in a vibrant, daydream world, where people liked me, because my imagined life was so, so much better than the one I suffered through. Of writing vicious, enraged poetry, filled with bloody imagery, and of wishing, wishing, wishing for revenge.
What would you do when I invited you to see beyond the illusion, beyond the charming words illuminating the highlights? Would you pay heed to the dark shadows crawling below the surface, seething and threatening to break through my artifice? Or would you content yourself with the bright lights and gimmicks I employed to give you a highly abridged version of my upbringing? A prettified story with the cracks papered over; all bells and whistles applied (some omissions necessary), that you could swallow whole.
And what would you have done if the person doing the telling (not that I could have, my voice and ability to reach out having long been shelved alongside the smithereens of my spirit) was then-me? Still-stuck-amidst me? The one with so little hope of change she no longer even wondered if it were possible?
Would you have offered comfort? Platitudes? Sanctuary?
Would you have questioned the why? Would you have enquired? Would you have checked it out for yourself?
Would you have spoken up?
We live in more enlightened times, and perhaps now-you would notice the stark differences between then-me and the other kids. Then-you might not have. Then-you (like all the ‘then-them’s; the adults who came into somewhat regular contact with me and my family – the school nurses who turned me away, labelling me a hypochondriac; the teachers who noticed my extreme aversion to playtime and nonetheless forced me outside, rather than questioning further; the family psychiatrist who gobbled down the falsehoods and never created safe spaces for honesty) might have had higher priorities. Then-you might have preferred the ease, the comfort, of taking yourself off the hook; of going along with the lies.
Any who knew then-me, could tell I was different, discomfited, odd. Some sought to support me. Others heaped punishment. None (to my knowledge) challenged the situation. Could it have changed the outcomes if they had? There’s no way of knowing, but there are regular, documented instances of tragedies where the right questions asked, at the right times, could have made all the difference, and, heartbreakingly, harrowingly, didn’t.
Asking questions is uncomfortable. Not easy. Dangerous, boat-rocking behaviour.
Asking questions (especially if you’re the ONLY one asking “Is everything okay?”) can render you vulnerable, ridiculous, interfering, a target.
Speaking out, especially into situations of conflict and abuse, is risky.
Sometimes, though, taking that risk can make all the difference. Sometimes it only takes one person to break the bystander effect for other people to crowd in, in support. And we really need to stand together, to speak, to combat the badness and gloss of falsehood which all too often proliferates in this world. We need to use our voices to puncture the silver-tongued smokescreen and bring light to the injustices occurring in its shadows.
Every situation is different, and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ response. ‘Speaking Up’ won’t always be best done literally, and wisdom requires that comprehension of the context must always be part of the formation of any move to intervene, but make no mistake, there is NEED to respond. All the Bads, whatever they may be, NEED people to take courage, to combat them.
A wise woman recently remarked “standing together saying “NOT OKAY” is how slaves became free, how women won the right to vote, how kids with special needs are included in mainstream classrooms WITH THE SUPPORT THEY NEED…, how gay people earned the right to marry legally and and and and…”
The Blogosphere has recently been FILLED with wonderful, heartening examples of people using their voices for Good – of standing up, of speaking out, of showing solidarity and shouting “NOT OKAY” in the face of big, appalling examples of badness.
If we look beyond the genuine goodness of these acts, beyond the big, bold, shining Good Example, we’ll see that there are still so many more instances where the lack of speaking up has left hauntings, harrowings, hurts. We see it when childhood loves disappeared and still have a question mark hanging over their existence. We see it when the abused return to their abusers. We see it when words of current-day slaves echo across our memories. We see it when adults refuse to challenge an aggressive, bullying force, keeping their heads down and leaving the bully to victimise, presumably just glad they aren’t the targets.
We see it when our child-self panics, clinging to the leg of our resolve to Be The Difference, terrified of isolation, vulnerability, backlash. We see it when our stomach vomits clouds of nervous butterflies and our determination quavers in the face of Speaking Up. We see it in hindsight, when we picked up our child-self and soothed them with songs of “Somewhere, Over the Rainbow” as we walked them rapidly away from the situation that scared them. We see it in the aftermath outpourings of the Righteous Indignant – “Somebody should have…”
Somebody should have. Anybody could have. But nobody did.
Everybody bears the shame for the perpetuation of bad situations where, once we understood, we were complicit by our silence.
Everybody has a future full of opportunities to choose differently.
Each of us can bear honour for situations where we had the courage to Speak Up. Each of us can add ourselves to the growing crowd determined to give voice, somehow, to the notion that the bad things of the present time are “NOT OKAY”. Each of us can behave in ways which ring true with the ideas that we’re stronger together, and #LoveWins, and the small acts of kindness by everyday folk, can keep darkness at bay.
We all CAN, but will we?
Not every time, no, for we all are human and we all fall short. There will be times when we’re too scared, and live with our regrets, using them to shape future responses. There will be times when we just won’t be able to comprehend the situation. There will be times when we just don’t. There will be times we get it wrong. There will be times when it wouldn’t be wise.
But I’d like to think there will be times when we WILL Speak Up. I delight in the thought of growing numbers of people prepared to see, to hear, to comprehend, and to act with wisdom. I’m awed at the thought of people discovering they were scared, but had the courage to do it anyway. I’m thrilled at the idea of increasing numbers of people swelling the ranks of those willing to speak up against bad situations, to say “NOT OKAY” and see a world changed for the better.
I have a not-so-secret hope that somehow, someday, we ALL might be Lion-hearts.
Love. Compassion. Courage. Change.
We got this, right?
This was written as part of 1000 Voices for Compassion, as well as Finish the Sentence Friday.
This month, 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion continues to work toward a better world with a focus on Compassion and Courage.
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