February 13, 2018
Why is it so hard to speak up when something isn’t working for us, when our needs aren’t being met, and we need something to change?
Most of us don’t like conflict, and will go through a lot of trouble to avoid it. And with good reason! We’ve suffered some of our deepest wounds, and most humiliating experiences of disempowerment when we’ve tried to speak up, only to have someone use their power to silence, deny, or ignore us. So even if we have important needs that aren’t being met, or are being violated, we may fear that if we speak up for the changes we need, it will “rock the boat,” the boat will tip over, and we’ll lose everything. And so we remain silent for as long as we can, sacrificing our needs to maintain a false sense of comfort and safety in the status quo. The problem is that this isn't sustainable… the underlying issues needing to be addressed often get worse when they’re pushed to the side. Resentment, distrust, and distance grow in the cold shadows of silence, and rot the boat from the inside.
It’s often only when the cost of maintaining dysfunctional and unsustainable ways of being become higher than our fear of change and the conflict it can bring that we are forced to find the courage to ask for the changes we need. Sometimes this might happen in an explosive way because we’ve waited so long, and suffered so much. But often, even if these requests are made as calmly as possible, they are met with resistance, resentment, and even punishment from those benefitting from the status quo. So why bother?
- As we’ve seen with the recent #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, and #JusticeForColten movements, though speaking up far from guarantees that we will be heard, it is, in and of itself, an important step toward meeting our needs for authenticity, integrity, justice, and agency.
- Speaking up allows us to connect with our inner strength and resources, as well as with others facing similar challenges, so that we can learn from each other, and strengthen ourselves by coming together.
- Speaking up gets easier and easier with practice. Each time we speak up, even in small ways, for what we or others need, it increases our capacity to withstand the discomfort that change and conflict can bring. This, in turn, increases our effectiveness and stamina in bringing about the changes we need.
- Perhaps most importantly, speaking up for ourselves helps us to be better able to really listen when others are requesting changes. We all hold power to create change in many different ways, all of our needs are valid, and a necessary part of peaceful and healthy co-existence. Speaking up in one area of our life where we have less power helps us to be more receptive and less defensive when others speak up in areas of our lives where we have more power.
I think Maya Angelou says it best:
We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.