Friday, December 27, 2013

The shaking voice or the scream inside?

“Always speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.”

I’ve seen this meme going around and it struck me. I’ve felt my voice shake a number of times when I had to express my deeper feelings or beliefs, confront an issue, or simply offer something new about myself to another. It made me think about what it is to communicate, what risks are involved, and why people are so often bad at communicating.

It’s possible the meme is paraphrasing social activist Maggie Kuhn’s quote: “Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.” She talked about how hard it is to stand up for what you believe in, especially against assured dissension and possible hatred.

Is this what people face every day in their social lives and in their closer relationships? Critique, judgment, dissension, dislike, loss? Do we hold our thoughts for fear of punishment and loss?

Scenario: Spouse 1 is unhappy in a part of the marriage. Unspoken and unaddressed, the unhappiness moves from disappointment to discouragement and often to bitter resentment. Spouse 1 begins to believe Spouse 2 should know, should understand, should fix the problem that hasn’t been spoken. Blame shifts from self to other. Silence is justified. It even becomes a form of punishment. Spouse 2 feels the resentment and attaches it to different issues, unrelated, both blind to the original need.

Scenario: Spouse 1 is unhappy in a part of the marriage. Despite fear of hurting Spouse 2’s feelings, despite the potential for an argument, Spouse 1 relates the problem to Spouse 2. Spouse 2 listens but hears only “failure” and “inadequacy.” Spouse 2 is hurt and wants to defend intentions and actions. Spouse 2 thinks, with all the sacrifices and compromises of marriage already, there should be no complaints. Resentment builds. Spouse 2 thinks if Spouse 1 has such complaints, perhaps Spouse 1 should find something better.  Spouse 2 bristles and retreats and punishes Spouse 1 with cold silence. The original need remains unaddressed.

These same problems can occur in friendships or work relationships. Communication makes people vulnerable, both the speaker and the listener. Psychologists recommend using “I” statements when raising an issue between two people. Keeping the focus on what one’s feeling instead of what the other has done. “I was feeling neglected because …” “I felt unsure about your reaction in the meeting…” “I felt angry when you…and then realized I was hurt…” “When you said …, I thought you might mean …”

It’s scary. The voice shakes. Something is on the line: Healing or breaking something further. Exposing one’s insecurity or one’s weakness. Saying I made a mistake or saying that you did. Hurting oneself, hurting another. It’s a tough business being honest. Sometimes the heart clenches, sometimes the body quivers.
Does keeping a relationship strong, whether in love or in friendship or in the workplace, require a kind of bravery? Maybe sometimes. Like admitting when you’re wrong, like admitting when you’re sad, like expressing your essential needs—like asking another if they’re willing to help you through.

We need to speak so people can know, while encouraging the sympathetic ear that will listen. A tough business. Sometimes silence seems easier, but oh then, how loud the voice screams in our heads.  

Patricia is author of the vampire novel Beside the Darker Shore. 
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