Montgomery, Alabama. December 1, 1955. Early evening. A public bus pulls to a stop and a sensibly dressed woman in her forties gets on. …She sits in the first row of the Colored section and watches quietly as the bus fills with riders. Until the driver orders her to give her seat to a white passenger.
The woman utters a single word that ignites one of the most important civil rights protests of the twentieth century…The word is “No”.
From Quiet, by Susan Cain.
The woman that this excerpt is referring to is Rosa Parks.
What we know of Rosa is that she was a very quiet women, shy some people even said. It was simply that after a long day of ironing in the basement of a department store, no doubt a day that was on top of many days of ironing, she wanted something very simple, a seat so that she could rest her swollen feet.
In the moment that a basic human right was denied, a voice came out, one word; and as history states, this word and the subsequent actions of the people who followed suit, changed the course of American.
How often do we use our voices well? Whether doors are open ‘upstairs’ for us to speak and be heard or not, how often do take the opportunity to voice our concerns? Most importantly, how often do we speak our truth?
On thursday I went to a teacher training day where four teachers who have been teaching in schools for years spoke openly and with such courageous vulnerability about the challenges they face as teachers and heard the voices of many during the afternoons session on ‘teaching for assessment’, on moderated grading and the ‘unfairness’ they felt their students were subjected to with the current system.
Yesterday I had the great privilege of being in a seminar where fellow teacher candidates used their voices to express their ideas about how to avoid anger and frustration in a classroom, about the need for ‘unconditional positive regard’ or care of and for their students (as the Parkville Education Program would state here in Victoria); and read a statement made by primary school children in England, the ‘Children’s Manifesto’ about what they would like if their school had all the money in the world.
It was not Kanye West as Principle by the way. What they wanted were mostly basic human rights.
Alongside these events I have observed two of my drama students using their voice simply by standing in their element, doing what they love; and I myself went ‘upstairs’ and spoke on behalf of a group of people. I also sent a letter to The Age regarding something I found disconcerting about their paper last weekend (which I was informed last night will be published) and wrote a paper for my Masters arguing that the wellbeing of students could not be fostered without a ‘whole schools approach’, that the wellbeing of teachers and the school community had to be cultivated also in order for the wellbeing of students to occur.
It’s been a big week for voice and so a great irony this early Saturday morning as I wake up with a heavy head cold… and no voice.
Every voice I bore witness to this week and every moment I spoke from my core (whether pen to paper or orally), was a life affirming moment. Each moment was simple, no one spoke with anger, no one asked for anything outrageous, spoke about or for anything selfishly, they were simply utterances of truth, delivered with passion yes, but with a sense of connection, a groundedness (if I may make up a word here), a sweet simplicity nestled in something that seemed so quiet, not ferocious or aggressive at all as we might expect ‘voice’ to look and sound like.
In fact, at the moment these voices spoke, the room began to breathe.
A voice can indeed change a room, a people and most beautifully a self. But this change only occurs when the words are connected to a core truth within the self. It is simply because you are human that those words may then find a connection to other people, that you find others who share a need to speak on the matter and for that voice to be heard.
I say this this morning after an email from a someone I respect greatly and who shows me a level of care and understanding I am always so grateful for. This email reminded me of this fact, that I need only speak for me, use my voice and celebrate that voice no matter how imperfect. As long as it is real and present it will find a place with others.
This email in turn reminded me of a blog post I wrote early in, about ‘Inspiration (from where do you draw breath?)’ I suggested that being in one’s own element, being ‘in the flow’ was as simple as the word inspiration suggests, as simple as to breathe.
Because Inspiration in this way requires no effort we can see too how having a voice can require no effort if it comes from truth. If it is using your own voice rather than the voice of others. I wonder if perhaps waking up with no voice comes a little from this, that my concerns became for other people, that I forgot my initial concerns had come from a voice deep within myself for my own rights, concerns and passions.
What I will acknowledge is that speaking from truth brings such affirmation of life, of purpose and belonging. You find a community when you speak and you see strengths within yourself you may not have realised were there. And though there is such reward that comes when that voice is heard, when change does indeed occur, there is no greater change that happens than within yourself when you know you have stood up for something you believe in.
Rosa Parks did this sitting down. She must have been breathing.
Wonder. Meant …that you have a voice within you that has a right to be heard. Speak now or forever hold your peace.