By Lisa Allen, Blogger of the Month for February
Ever notice the many ways your voice changes over the course of a day?
Level and measured while at work, soft and tender with loved ones, higher pitched when surprised or excited, and just a tad bit menacing with a staccato tempo when you’re angry?
Pretty sure that’s how my voice changes as life goes along, but you’d probably need to ask my kids which nuances I’ve missed. Point is, our voice just isn’t ONE voice. It morphs and grows as we do, picking up awareness and a bit more understanding as the years pass and our experiences multiply.
I believe the same is true when we’re using our voice to change the world. Some days our voice is what I’ve come to think of as our ‘inside voice’; perhaps it’s when we have little ones at home and our time is consumed with raising them to be the change we hope to see in the world.
We might even bring those kids into our advocacy. We might do what my friend Erin Margolin has done, and encourage them to shop for whole, healthy foods to donate to those who don’t have enough. We might use our voices to have tough conversations that aren’t always popular. We might prepare them for a life of using their own voices by raising them to be respectful yet outspoken, kind yet firm.
Some days our voice might take the form of monetary support. By donating to causes that we believe make a difference in the world, we amplify the voices of others whom we believe in. Without actually saying a word, we say what and whom we believe in by giving something they need in a way that we can. It’s not about the number when we lend financial support to an organization that does good; it’s about the collective voices behind those donations, and the understanding that whether it’s $1 or $1,000, the force behind those dollars is each amplified because of the others.
Other days, our voice might be our actions. Mission trips, volunteer stints in the community or advocacy as a CASA volunteer are but a very few ways to put true physical action behind our voice. Whether you can carve out an hour or a month, there are opportunities everywhere.
I still remember the time I spent volunteering in a homeless shelter when I was in college. I was a naive Kansas girl in the heart of Chicago, completely unfamiliar with the notion of not having a place to call home. I didn’t realize what was in store for me as I signed in that night, and I truly had no idea there were so many issues that led the folks to lobby for a warm room for the night and a cot on which to sleep.
In my naivete, I thought homelessness was simply a matter of location. I didn’t realize that it’s a matter of voice. For so many, their voice goes unheard, unacknowledged, discarded. When voices don’t sound like ours, when they’re tinged with mental illness or struggles with addiction or post-traumatic stress disorder, they often manifest in other ways.
I remember handing each of the people a hotel-sized bottle of shampoo and a sliver of a bar of soap, and I remember how uncomfortable I felt as they looked at me, sometimes saying “thank you.” My discomfort wasn’t their fault, and I’m only now starting to understand that they were, each in their own way, asking me to hear them by seeing them.
Think about it; we see the homeless on the streets every day. We see them panhandling sometimes, we see them dirty and disheveled, we see them shrunken into the side of a building or the crook of an alley.
But we don’t truly see them. We look, but we don’t see. We listen, but we don’t hear. Back then, as a teenager, I desperately wanted to make a difference through my actions, but I didn’t know what voice sometimes looks like. I didn’t know that sometimes voices get lost somewhere along the way, and I didn’t know that sometimes the best way to use our own voice is to help others remember theirs.
I haven’t volunteered in a homeless shelter since college, but being a champion of silent voices is still important to me. Today I do that by donating blood and serving on a board of directors for a local health clinic; but I’m sure that as my kids grow and go on to college, I’ll find additional ways to participate in causes that touch my heart.
The concept of using our voice to change the world is enormous. It can be intimidating, and we can get lost in the details of who, what, why, when, and how.
So the question comes back, really, to what moves you? What inspires you to use your voice, whether it’s to share a kind word, make a donation or get out into the world and touch the lives of others?
Lisa Allen started her blog Back2Allen in 2007. She writes about life as a single mom and is slowly coming to grips with the fact that her babies aren’t babies anymore. She is a freelance writer, co-director of Listen to Your Mother: Kansas City, Girl Scout troop leader, volunteer, and stress baker. She prefers red over white and desperately wants to go back to yoga class.