Throughout her career in the media, Sally could not express her political views in any public way. It’s a choice she and all in the profession make willingly, as the industry code of ethics proscribes that journalists “should remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.”
Then Sally retired. She found herself — all at once — in the same city and in quite a different place. That is, the nation was (and remains) conflicted about the new Administration, but Sally was free to speak out, march, and do as much as she wanted to bring others to her point of view. It was liberating.
“It felt good participating after sitting on the sidelines for so long,” she said.
Speaking up after staying silent for so many years also raised a question, several in fact.
What cost do we pay for keeping quiet? Is it different if we choose to impose a ban on self-expression or if it comes as part of the job? And, where does the “bottled up” energy go? Surely repressing the urge to voice an opinion, write a protest sign, or march in the streets fuels frustration. The same goes for silencing ourselves in intimate relationships, at work, or in social situations.
How many of us stay quiet simply because of a fear that our thoughts are unworthy?
“Shut up and you’ll be safe,” the inner critic demands.
“No one will stare. No one will laugh. No one will challenge your silly ideas. Or go ahead. Yes, go ahead, express your ridiculous point of view and see what happens.”
So, some stay still. They cope. “It is what it is,” they shrug.
And they get by, rarely pausing to think about how much energy they expend trying to keep the peace, remain neutral, or redirect the spotlight elsewhere.
The other way to look at it, of course, is what might they gain by speaking their mind? Think of someone stuck in this spot, and how he or she might answer questions like:
How would it make you feel to stop censoring yourself?
How would it change the way you acted at home, on the job, and at a cocktail party or family gathering?
Even if you weren’t able to persuade anyone of anything, how would it feel to contribute freely to the discussion?
And, perhaps most importantly, how much further could you go if you weren’t spending all that energy on a strategy that’s keeping you on the same treadmill?
Sometimes we hold our tongues out of a fear that lifting the lid off a simmering pot would only worsen things, perhaps by forcing an unpleasant or even nasty discussion. “Leave it alone,” warns the inner critic. “Listen to me; I’ve got your best interests at heart.”
The problem is that the steam is going to find its way out of the pot one way or another, and sooner or later, the lid is going to blow clear off.
It might just be time to thank the inner critic for trying to keep you safe, and then rewrite his job description.
Tell him if he wants to stay, the new assignment is to make sure that when the butterflies show up, they fly in formation. A dose of nerves can actually fuel your performance. Think of sports. Even the bowling coach wants his team to be pumped up instead of super relaxed.
With practice, adrenaline becomes an asset instead of a liability. Speaking up replaces shutting up, and the question that has lingered (what’s the worst that could happen?) is answered. The answer is, nothing so bad.
In fact, you might learn as Sally learned, that it feels pretty good to participate after sitting on the sidelines for so long.