When I was little my nickname was Mouse. I was quiet and reserved, always assessing before speaking and sometimes not talking at all. I often held back in conversation, politely waiting my turn and more than that, waiting for permission…for someone to tell me it was O.K. to say what was on my mind. Once I hit 13 and started to become more confident, I took baby steps off my observant perch. I tried on different voices, found some that fit, and worked the modulation of my vocal cords until one felt right. And yet, this comfort with sharing my beliefs didn’t happen overnight. It took not only years but decades to find the right balance between assertion and restraint.
When I write, I follow a process. I brainstorm ideas, draft notes, craft paragraphs, edit, polish, read out loud, and edit again. My words don’t glide, they drift – and the end result looks nothing like my starting point. If it did, my point of view would be too extemporaneous and dependent on a current of expression that ebbs a lot more than it flows, resulting in a fragmented snapshot of my thoughts. Over time I’ve learned that I can actually say more with less and consequently, the delete button on my laptop gets the most use.
We live in a country where every voice matters and each person has the right to say what’s on his or her mind. The value of this freedom is priceless, an indelible piece of our nation’s historical fabric. Everyone wants to be heard. Clearly I do too or I wouldn’t write this blog. Yet in a society where we’re bombarded by opinions, sometimes less really is more.
One of the structural foundations of opinion is passion, and that’s a good thing. To feel emotional conviction about anything worth sharing is one of life’s great gifts. But if your heartfelt viewpoint causes friends to block you on Facebook and family members to reevaluate your seat at the Thanksgiving table? Something’s wrong.
In the overly immersive social media landscape we occupy, it’s become clear that not everything in life is meant to be shared. If we speak prematurely without the value of time and space, we squander the great freedom of speech we’ve inherited. When we use our words without first looking in the mirror, we actually damage what we seek to build.
Nobody’s perfect. Not you and definitely not me. From a personal perspective, I’m trying to get back to the place where I started, to the spirit of that little girl who, a little awestruck, watched the world around her because she was afraid to say what was on her mind. Except I’m not afraid anymore. I’m wiser, in large part because as I’ve learned to speak my mind I’ve made mistakes. The benefit of those missteps ultimately lies in reflection and thoughtfulness. I’ll continue to use my words, as should you, and hopefully with the care and consideration that makes them truly meaningful.