Listen to the Voice!

September 6th, 2015

Democracy is a very fluid thing, isn’t it. It is sometimes a difficult environment in which to find the right place – that niche where you feel you can operate as an effective human being. There are, actually, so many options – sometimes almost too many. But democracy gives you that freedom.

The lead singer in a band recently complained that reviewers were busy talking about their appearance, the clothes and makeup, the tattoos she wore – and not about the music. “Please!” she cried. “Listen to the voice!”

Lately I have been participating in a number of activities that have brought home to me the importance of finding that influential voice – and getting people to focus and listen to it. There are so many distractions in our society that it is easy to get lost. Your potential audience may be more interested in finding out who you are, rather than what you are saying. Your message can get drowned in trivialities (like what clothes you are wearing).

Participants in the ongoing PowHERhouse training with WMW Jamaica. (Photo: WMW/Twitter)

Participants in the ongoing PowHERhouse training with WMW Jamaica. (Photo: WMW/Twitter)

So, how do you take the plunge? At the University of the West Indies’ leadership conference recently, and again during WMW Jamaica’s current PowHERhouse leadership training for women, the question comes up: “How do you just get up and go for it?” WMW trainees have spent some time discussing fear – sometimes physical, most often psychological – that hesitancy that holds one back from expressing oneself fully and openly. “I wonder to myself… Am I too ’nuff’?” said one woman. There is a fear of being misunderstood, misinterpreted; of being suspected of having a “hidden agenda.”

Now, one thing I have realized (and this is true of leadership in general) is that you have to first look inside yourself. Ensure your goals are firmly fixed. Where are you heading? Then move towards those goals – whether you are representing an organization, advocating for a cause, writing an activist blog or organizing a campaign. Nothing is certain in life; you don’t know what impact your voice will have, whether short-term or later down the road. As trainer Georgia Love noted during the PowHERhouse sessions, “Things are going to go in ways you didn’t plan.” But at some point you have just got to get up and “run with it.”

During a July 23 speech in Portland, Executive Director of National Integrity Action Professor Trevor Munroe reminded us all: “Speaking out is our democratic right!” This is part of the fluidity and freedom of democracy that I mentioned above. Yes, you can (and should) go ahead and speak your mind. You are allowed to do so.

We should, of course, remind ourselves that in many parts of the world regular citizens do not have this option; they may not have the option to vote, another democratic right. In Bangladesh, bloggers who write against religious extremism are beaten to death; in China recently, human rights defenders, lawyers and their staff were rounded up and imprisoned; closer to home in Venezuela, Opposition Leader Leopoldo López has been in prison since February 2014. Of course, there are political prisoners all over the world of various persuasions and beliefs.

Jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, shown above being escorted by National Guardsmen in 2014, has ended a one-month hunger strike, after the government on Monday set a date for the next parliamentary elections. (Photo: Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

Jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, shown above being escorted by National Guardsmen in 2014, has ended a one-month hunger strike, after the government on Monday set a date for the next parliamentary elections. (Photo: Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

What will people think, though, if I express myself in writing, or make a presentation in front of an audience of strangers? Well, Jamaica is a very small society. People will talk behind your back. These are the same people who will pontificate in bars to an audience of two or three half-drunk friends; who will sit on uptown verandahs with a cooling drink to discuss the affairs of the day and who said what to whom; who will rant and rage on social media, but do nothing to effect meaningful change. They like to assign labels to others – “Oh, he/she is this or that.” Assigning political labels is a popular practice.

Here's a great quote from comedian Amy Poehler: “I want to be around people that do things. I don’t want to be around people anymore that judge or talk about what people do. I want to be around people that dream and support and do things.”

Here’s a great quote from comedian Amy Poehler: “I want to be around people that do things. I don’t want to be around people anymore that judge or talk about what people do. I want to be around people that dream and support and do things.”

So, why worry about what those ineffective people think – those bystanders, eternally happy to sit on the fence? Once you have found your own unique voice, you may be quite surprised to find how many supporters you have. By the way, there is a myth (I consider it a myth) that “women don’t support each other.” This was discussed at the PowHERhouse training. In a highly competitive environment, this commonly expressed phrase might be true; women are as ambitious as men, and may behave accordingly. However, no one says “men don’t support each other” when they are competing. Very often, though, you may find there are more women (and men) in your corner than you expected. What about your circle of friends, your mother, your sister – your most faithful supporters?

There are many voices out there – sometimes, there is a cacophony. As general elections approach, the noise is likely to get louder and more confused. We must all keep a cool head, and focus on the issues that are important. We must cut out the peripheral noise, the in-fighting and name-calling among politicians; it is not relevant or significant in any way.

The question is: Are our leaders talking about the issues that concern us? If not, why not? If not, then we should start talking about the issues ourselves, and hold the squabbling politicians to account on them. This is an opportunity to “hold their feet to the fire.”

Young and old, men and women, we need to find our place in this rumbustious democracy of ours; raise our voices above the clamor. Stand firm; there is a great deal at stake.

Oh, and don’t forget to vote!

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