“We would speak much more carefully if our tongues were breakable,” Penny paraphrased a beautiful poem by Shaun Shane as she spoke about the power of words.
She addressed her fellow members of Lantern League Glenwood, a public speaking club dedicated to the empowerment of the voice and self-confidence in youth.
Her words sent collective shivers down the audience’s spines. The club is made up of children all under 13 and every one of them raised their hands when asked if they have been verbally bullied in school.
Some with tears in their eyes and others with very detailed stories, they spoke about the hurt and the fear they feel. As the adult in the room, I couldn’t comfort them with the lie that it would all go away when they were older, because the truth is, adults are also struggling to deal with verbal attacks themselves.
While we partake in a false community of filtered images, the unfiltered voices are damaging our children and their self-esteem. They are struggling to know how to use their voices in a better way. Who’s teaching them? Because there is nothing more powerful than a voice; nothing more useful than our voice.
Let me pose two questions to you;
At what age are we supposed to take responsibility for our own voice?
At what age are we to start cultivating the best use of our voice?
Let’s look at our voice for a moment—it is something that can only be powered by its owner. We can use this voice as an instrument and as our greatest aid in communicating our thoughts and feelings. We can then use it to empower others, to support them, to help people, to speak up for what’s right and to express our creativity.
Our voices can also be used as weapons. At the most fundamental level, we can use our voices to alienate our authenticity and basic goodness. This can cause extreme dissatisfaction and disconnection within oneself. Then, through that negativity, we can hurt other people with anger and thoughtlessness.
In an attempt to regain the self-awareness we have now lost, we lash out with our voices to take it from someone else. We have all seen this form of verbal violence publicly; it’s has been sensationalized by the media.
We have all used our voice as a weapon in our homes and family squabbles. Haven’t we heard it in our minds, the harshness that we either received, or worse, handed out, replayed back to us?
I believe that it is the responsibility of all parents to teach their children the importance and value of their voices. The first lesson of school shouldn’t be about school rules, but to help children take accountability for using their voices correctly.
As a former H.R. professional, I have never come across a company policy that is solely dedicated to the responsible use of voices in the workplace. I now work in the coaching industry. I am sad to say that some coaches have turned the tables on language—and encourage the use of derogatory words as empowering tools—to give the false impression of self-confidence!
Enough is enough, isn’t it?
We need to pause and see the hypocrisy of f-bombing our way to self-worth and stop trying to filter away this epidemic of bullying. Misogyny personified is now leading the world’s most powerful nation and his voice will have an impact.
It already has.
I couldn’t agree with Penny more, as she wisely ended her speech saying, “We should stop using thoughtless, mindless words! Taste your words before you spit them out!” We cannot even begin to change our world until we take ownership of the most basic item each and every one of us can control. It’s the lesson we all need to learn before we learn anything else.
Luckily, the wise did walk among us and have already paved the way. Here are the four steps to cultivating our voices, as per Buddhist teachings.
Abstain from false speech (“Is it true?”) False speech comes from the intention to deceive. This creates mistrust and social disharmony. Speak the truth instead and be reliable; be worthy of confidence. It also refers to the embellishments or the small exaggerations we indulge in where we distort the truth slightly. Although not usually for malicious reasons, it still takes the truthfulness out of the picture. Placing priority on truth means using our voices in a decent and honest manner.
Abstain from slanderous speech (“Is it helpful?”) This is the type of speech which intends to cause alienation and dissension. It is putting someone apart from another or one group against another. It stirs up resentments and creates division. This form of speech is driven by aversion, resentment and jealousy. Reflecting and refraining from speaking at the temptation of this form of speech is a great way to consciously change this habit.
Instead, we can use our voices to promote friendship and harmony through goodness and empathy. This will lead to building trust and affection.
Abstain from harsh speech (“Is it kind?”) Harsh words and tones of voice are driven by anger and come out as abuse and insults.
They include tone and speech that is demeaning, condescending and abusive. Cursing does nothing more than fuel anger, regardless of how you package it. Some people go as far as using derogatory words to pat themselves on the back for jobs well done. This is as useful as drinking salt water to quench one’s thirst.
Instead we can use our voices to be more gentle, soothing to the ear and loving. Use words that are heartfelt, courteous and friendly.
Abstain from useless speech (“Is it necessary?”) Pointless talk refers to speech that lacks purpose or depth. It communicates nothing of value. Sometimes we use our voices to fill the uncomfortableness of silence. Sometimes we fill it with gossip, which is harmful. At other times, we use mundane chatter for the sake of keeping attention on ourselves or to avoid reflection. Yes, we use our voices to connect with each other. However, the intention of how we connect and why we need to connect requires observation and understanding. Then it needs conscious follow through. We would do better to speak intentionally, at the right time, in accordance with facts and what is useful.
The true effect of the voice is boundless. Its impact is immeasurable. The words we use can influence the entire world for generations to come. It already influences our internal dialogue and impacts our state of mind. There are no shortcuts or cheap ways of using our voices properly.
The voice is an asset and a tool we all have access to. Its proper use is not an option, it needs to be a responsibility we take on wholeheartedly.
Author: Dimuthu Perera
Image: via elephant journal on Instagram
Volunteer Editor: Lois Person; Editor: Catherine Monkman