The power of your voice

power of your voice
Nadia Colburn // January 23, 2020 // 6 Comments

Monday was Martin Luther King Day—it was very cold and I stayed inside, baked some bread, spent some time with Eric and Simone, worked on an essay, and had dinner with some friends.

All day, I was also thinking about the legacy of Dr. King, who is such a model of how to use the power of our voices.

I wonder what he’d think about this day in his honor, in a country that is still so divided. I thought about the ways in which he spoke the truth—and lost his life for that—and thought about the many, many, many other brave men and women who stood up for and spoke out and put their bodies on the line for what is right. And in the back of my mind was the question—how do I honor and learn from King and the Civil Rights movement on a deep level? When we really speak with truth and courage, it’s never easy or convenient. I spend my life writing and teaching about the power of our voices, and I know that using the power of your voice is not easy; it’s hard; it takes courage. But King’s example encourages us to step forward. And he reminds us that speaking our truth, even if dangerous, is also itself full of life.

King has often been paraphrased as saying: “The day we see the truth and cease to speak is the day we begin to die.”

Although he didn’t say those actual words, what he did say was “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”King said these words after Bloody Sunday, when nonviolent protesters, John Lewis among them, were beaten by the police. in other words, though it isn’t easy to speak the truth and stand up for what is right, not doing so, remaining silent, King reminds us, also deprives us of our life–of our true, authentic energy and power. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that King’s use of the phrase “stand up for” becomes paraphrased as “to speak.” What King himself makes clear, however, is that speaking and standing up for—using our language and our bodies—go hand in hand. Sometimes we also forget that–because it’s easier to speak without taking action.

To really live our fullest, we need to speak the truth and we need to live and act from what we say. And often what that means is we need to speak truth to power.

We speak and act not from anger —though often anger is a part of it—, but from wholeness, from celebrating what is right, from living from our center.

So I was mulling over these ideas, and then on Tuesday, I watched Greta Thunberg speak at Davos.
Greta Thunberg activist

Greta again clearly articulated why our words are empty without action; words can help bring about change, but alone they are not change. And again she articulated that what we need now is need immediate action to address the climate crisis—not next year, not tomorrow, but today. I also watched the panel afterward, where I was inspired by Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, from Chad, who spoke about how the climate crisis is already taking lives, and the importance of learning from the wisdom of indigenous cultures.

For me, the climate crisis is the most pressing issue of our times–it encapsulates the crises of racism, sexism, economic inequality because what drives the climate crisis–greed, abuse of power, an unwillingness to change– are the same forces that lead to the dangerous human actions that have tipped the very health of mother nature out of balance. The effects of the climate crisis will affect everyone. It is what I feel called upon to raise my voice for.

King and Thunberg both inspire me and encourage me to use my voice and also to participate in actions that lead to immediately addressing the climate crisis. That is my goal for 2020. What about you? What are your goals for the year? And how can you speak more fully and integrate what you know with what you say and do? Who inspires you?

At the end of this post, I have some journal prompts and journal entry ideas to help you set your goals for your voice and for your actions.

Here, again, is Martin Luther King, Jr: “One of the great tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying. A persistent schizophrenia leaves so many of us tragically divided against ourselves. On the one hand, we proudly profess certain sublime and noble principles, but on the other hand, we sadly practice the very antithesis of these principles. How often are our lives characterized by a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds! We talk eloquently about our commitment to the principles of Christianity, and yet our lives are saturated with the practices of paganism. We proclaim our devotion to democracy, but we sadly practice the very opposite of the democratic creed. We talk passionately about peace, and at the same time, we assiduously prepare for war. We make our fervent pleas for the high road of justice, and then we tread unflinchingly the low road of injustice. This strange dichotomy, this agonizing gulf between the ought and the is, represents the tragic theme of man’s earthly pilgrimage.” ― Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love

The power of your voice 1

I invite you to take 15 minutes and write the first thing that comes to mind in response to these questions. If you want to meditate before you write, you will probably go deeper with your writing. Use my recording of a 15-minute meditation and writing session to help you go deeper. (access the recording here; I suggest using recording number one)

  1. What do you want to be more outspoken about? What situation is calling you to use your voice?
  2. How can you bring the power of your voice and your actions together into greater alignment?
  3. What is one thing you can do today or this week to use your voice and your actions? It can be something small. Choose something manageable and then follow through
  4. What was one time that you have used the power of your voice to speak out for something you care about?
  5. Who inspires you personally?

Please come back to these prompts again and share them with friends who might find them helpful. We can all encourage one another to speak and act courageously for a more life-filled world. Reach out to me with any comments or questions. Thanks!

  • Thanks for this post, Nadia. Blessed are the peacemakers. I think we need to do what we can to counter the divisive rhetoric of hate and build any bridges where we can across the gaping divide. I felt a real encouragement to do so listening to Brene Brown’s recent interview with Krista Tippett on “On Being.” And related to that building-bridges theme, check out a new echo chamber-busting website my Bowdoin College professor is developing with a colleague from Harvard’s Kennedy School:

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