I’ve been working and learning to be better about speaking my truth. Speaking up for what I believe, and expressing who I am and what I stand for.
What I didn’t take into account is how scary that actually can be.
I knew *I* was scared to do it, but chalked up the fear to all the time I spent in environments where speaking up was literally unsafe for me. What I’d forgotten is that in claiming my freedom to speak, I’m also claiming responsibility for the things I say, and sometimes that responsibility includes facing people who respond negatively or who are hurt by my words.
When I am informed that I’ve said something offensive or hurtful, I apologize where warranted and make amends where possible. My right and willingness to speak up doesn’t absolve me of the need to own my shit and take responsibility. But even though I apologize and I respect and validate people’s reactions, that doesn’t mean fear doesn’t raise its head.
In my past, people have harmed, or attempted to harm, me because they didn’t like things I said or just didn’t like me. So when someone approaches me with an issue they have about something I’ve said, while outwardly I try to respond in a respectful and productive way, my inner child is gibbering that the person might hurt me, that they’ll talk behind my back and turn people against me and so on. And anyone who has experienced the gibbering fear of a child can tell you that logic doesn’t always work to quiet the fear.
Then there’s the issue of attracting unwanted attention. Since I’ve begun speaking up more and sharing my messages on Instagram as well as Facebook, I’ve had about half a dozen men respond with propositions and “compliments.” (They might think that “Hey, you’re sexy and I want to be your friend” is a compliment; I do not.) It’s easy enough to block them, but again, my past comes up. I have been preyed on and victimized in the past because I present as female, and so even though I know these men are online (and often in far-away countries) and I can block them, the fear that they’ll stalk me or track me down elsewhere in person or online still looms.
I’m learning. I’m finding the balance between staying quiet out of fear of hurting someone’s feelings or speaking up but in a mindful way. I’m also finding the line between rational fear and irrational, and the more important line between what I am in control of and responsible for, and what is in the control and responsibility of others. I believe I owe people the respect to not hurt them intentionally and to apologize if I cause hurt; I do not believe I owe anyone the choice to keep my mouth shut so they aren’t offended.
(Note that I am referring to individual offense, such as someone not liking it when I state an opinion that is opposed to theirs. I am not referring to things that are offensive, prejudicial, and harmful to entire groups of people, such as racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. speech. I don’t engage in those types of speech knowingly, and if someone calls my attention to something I’ve said that falls under one of those things, I learn from it and am more mindful going forward.)
Saying, “I’m going to use my voice and speak my truth no matter what” is easy. Actually *doing* it is complicated, difficult, and scary. There are a lot of things to weigh, including whether speaking truth is worth the risks. For me, it is, and I hope to learn more over time about how to find the balances I need in order to speak.