When I was an infant, I had a fever of 106. AFTER aspirin. AFTER an ice bath.
I, of course, remember none of it.
What I do remember is being told by my beloved mother, over and over and over and over and over again to “moderate my voice”. Especially in public. (Only in public? Yes, I think that’s so.)
You see, when the fever left me, it fought its way through my vocal chords and wreaked havoc there for years to come. My voice became forced, scratchy and whiney all at once. (A little like I imagine Owen Meany’s would sound, now that I think of it.) And when excited, it would become especially forced, scratchy and whiney.
“Moderate your voice” became something of an anthem.
A Pavlovian response to a child’s excitability.
Moderate your voice – so as not to disturb anyone.
Moderate your voice – so as not to alarm anyone.
Moderate your voice – so as not to offend anyone.
Moderate your voice – so as not to drive anyone away.
Because people leave a scene, you know.
At first, it was near impossible. I thought moderating my voice meant whispering. But what I saw around me deserved more than a whisper. And then I thought it meant not speaking, but drawing instead. But what I saw around me happened faster than my colouring pencils could dance.
Over time, I learned to do the impossible. To moderate my voice. To tuck my chin into my neck and to consciously calm and quiet my vocal chords.
And I suspect my mother was relieved. Now no one outside the family would be disturbed, alarmed, offended or driven away.
Let me be clear. She adored me. With all she had. With the force of a thousand suns, she loved me. I couldn’t sing loud enough, or laugh hard enough, or talk ENOUGH enough for her. But outside the walls of our home…that’s where the dangers lurked. Because that had been her conditioning. That had been her experience.
Having me moderate my voice was one more way to keep me safe. Unmocked, unnoticed and out of the crosshairs.
But, if I was to set the world on fire, as she prophesied, I recognized somewhere along the line that I would be required to amplify my voice. To risk disturbing, alarming, offending and driving people away. To risk being left.
And so I did. I unlearned and then I newly learned. What I discovered was, as you can guess, quite the opposite. Well, let me rephrase that.
Some people left, yes. But more people, my RIGHT people CAME.
I’m not gonna lie. Amplifying your voice is no small bit of work.
But before you can do that even, you will need to stop moderating your voice. You will need to stop diminishing. You will need to stop equivocating. And you will need to stop apologizing. It’s also no small bit of work. But your people are waiting.