We sat on the front porch of the house as the quiet hours of morning made their transition into midday, when the heat begins to rise, and you have to swat the mosquitoes away. I followed my son outside after realizing he had quietly withdrawn and exited the house, his emotions at that moment feeling larger than his ability to process or handle. There was a whirlwind of outdoor activity around us. A guy who was smoking outside of a small business next door. Cars that were buzzing to and from on our street and two people were standing on the sidewalk saying goodbyes as they got into separate vehicles. Even with life happening all around us, it felt like it was just him and I sitting there unpacking big emotions, because nothing mattered to me more at that time than understanding what was on his heart, and nothing mattered more to him than my wanting to hear it.
It's much easier to speak up and reveal the vulnerable stuff in our hearts when we have the attention of someone who is listening. Not just hearing in the sense of perceiving sound. The way I can hear the garbage truck outside my house right now, while simultaneously hearing my dog snore softly from his kennel and a train blaring its horn from a distance. The type of hearing that happens whether I want it to or not, but listening by consciously choosing to concentrate on what is being said.
Like that person who puts their elbows on the table and leans in to absorb your words as you speak. They turn their phone over and opt not to check it for a moment. They don't interrupt you with their own thoughts and opinions until you are done speaking. And if they've really mastered the art of listening, they can discern when to give space to what was said by not offering the "right" response. How much easier it is to speak up in those moments.
Brené Brown describes vulnerability as "the courage to show up when you can't control the outcome."
The hard truth is that it's easier for me to be vulnerable from behind a computer screen where I can process and choose my words with careful forethought and consideration than it is for me to engage one on one or in a large social group setting. And while that gives the illusion of safety, it also feels unauthentic, restrictive and leads to silent frustration and the inability to be me and offer what I have inside of me to the world. I began to probe for the reason and pray over the why. Why is this my tendency? What lie do I believe about myself?
Somewhere along the way, I began to believe that my voice didn't matter. That no one wanted to hear what I had to say. That when I spoke up, and someone spoke over me, it was because what I was saying didn't have value and couldn't possibly have been because of someone else's inability to listen.
So without conscious intention on my part, I began to remain silent and blamed it on my introvert tendencies because it felt more comfortable than facing the rejection of not being heard.
I heard a hostage negotiator say once that what a captor wants more than anything is to be heard. It stuck with me, the extremes people will go to to be understood, and also because, at that time, my daily job involved listening to irate family members express their concerns regarding their loved ones or being called to help deescalate a behavior or talk someone off the edge of a wrong decision.
What I learned over and over again in that season is how quickly a person's anger returns to a neutral and rational level when they feel they are being listened to.
Eye level. Listen. Validate. "To be heard."
And in that space of listening, you will often hear what is silently begging to be heard. You will hear what is holding the captor-captive, which is usually the feeling that no one is listening. A sense of disempowerment and that they are not worthy of being heard or understood. I learned that it's not always about having the right answer. It's about listening for the answer.
It can feel disempowering to feel like you aren't being listened to. It whispers the lie that you what you have to say doesn't matter, and no one wants to hear it. It will steal your voice and your opinion and cause you to remain silent when you have something worthwhile to say. I don't know what may have happened in your life that tried to steal your voice. I don't know what lie knocked on the door of your heart, and you allowed to come in, but I urge you to take another look at it today.
When we choose to ignore that nudge in our heart to speak life and truth, and what we've learned, we rob others of the gift of our unique perception and experiences. Don't deprive others of your voice. There is someone who needs your words and your story. May you find the courage to show up, even when you can't control the outcome, knowing that you have value whether or not someone else has the ability to recognize it.