I owe my mum many things; she was a strong woman whose words and wisdom have helped me more than I will probably ever fully grasp. They helped me to navigate life as a youngster and allowed me to deal with the errors I made along the way. Later in life as an adult, I have attempted to use her advice and guidance to fashion what I believe in and to shape the way I act towards others and myself.
One of the things she would often say is: ‘Bill, have a voice and remember do not use it to make yourself popular or just to fit in with the crowd, but to say what you believe to be right and true’. Shrugging your shoulders, or saying that you do not have an opinion when asked was not something she encouraged. ‘The problem with that’, she would add, ‘….is that people think you do not care enough and by your silence that you agree with them even when you don’t’.
‘Have a voice and remember do not use it to make yourself popular or just to fit in with the crowd, but to say what you believe to be right and true.’
Of course, finding and using your voice comes with responsibilities. My mum would often ask me questions about the origins and bases of my thoughts and opinions, how I came to believe in them. In doing so, she forced me not only to think about what I wanted to say but also the merits of my saying it. She would ask: ‘… do you think any good can come of that conversation Bill and for whose benefit are you saying these words?’. Of course, these words of caution don’t always help when you want to say something in response and at a particular moment. Nevertheless, they have helped me temper those conversations where others may find what I have to say difficult to deal with. ‘You have a responsibility for what you say and you should think hard about those you intend to hear your voice, but be prepared for others to disagree with you. At the same time, you have an ethical duty to yourself to be heard and to say what you think.’.
While there are certain times to sit back and just listen to what others have to say, being silent and not using your voice can disempower you. It is easy to comply, to want to fit in with what others say and just repeat the agreed wisdom to help us belong. There is a comfort, which we all seek, in being in a crowd and having common thoughts with our friends and family, but, in doing so, we should find our own voice, use it with a purpose and intent and we must, in the end, be true to ourselves.
‘We should find our own voice, use it with a purpose and intent and we must, in the end, be true to ourselves.’
Issues of equity are more complex than just encouraging women and girls to find and own their voice. But by being heard and unafraid the complexities of equality can be aired and we, in turn, can provide vocal support to those attempting to make a change.