Voice and Power

The Word by Meghan Oona Clifford

During our adoption triad healing process with the Alive program last year, our Beloved Friend, who was facilitating, reflected to me the potency of my voice. I have a naturally powerful and loud voice, which can be used as a tool or a weapon (the same is true of my writing).

I used the power of my voice when I played Rizzo in Grease in high school and I could project my voice to back of the theatre to draw all of the audience into my songs. I used it for good when I spoke to and about the Pride and sex positive organizations I co-led and other sorts of speaking engagements I participated in over the years. And I used it for good when I taught people how to create a sense of belonging through radical inclusion. My voice is a strength when I use it consciously.

My voice is a weapon when I use my power and loudness to take up space and be heard in conflict with others. It is a weapon when I yell at my partners. I am aware that I get louder when I believe I am not being heard and/or when I am trauma triggered, but those are not excuses for causing harm. When my loudness is used to try to overpower another it causes hurt and fear. Healthy relating can’t occur if someone is in fear. This is why the Alive program is based on creating safety in ourselves and in our relationships. Some people have triggers around being yelled at because their parents or other authorities used their voices as weapons in emotional and verbal abuse (as my own mother did). Some people immediately shrink when a person gets loud. The last thing I want is diminish or overpower others or contribute to their feeling unsafe.

My Beloved Friend also reflected back to me that when I am in an open and curious space I have a softness that invites people to be intimate with me. And I can see that. I draw people into vulnerability and intimacy with my openness and lack of judgment. I can be incredibly accepting of our humanness and all the complex emotional realities we live with.

And I have a tendency to speak in absolute truths when in conflict (as most people do). When paired with my loud voice I can sound like a know-it-all and put people off. This is feedback I received from several loved ones over the years and it finally sunk in due to my work with the program. When I lose my openness and curiosity, when I put up hard walls and raise my voice, when I become self righteous and contemptuous, I can be intimidating and scary. Again, that is the last thing I want. My heart is wired for connection, not superiority or dominance.

The reality is that no one holds the ultimate truth when two or more people are relating, especially in conflict when our old traumas may cloud our vision. We all have pieces of the truth mixed up with our projections and assumptions. When we are in conflict we need to be able to speak our truths safely so that we can find the kernel of truth between us, which includes using our voice as a tool of connection rather than a weapon. We need openness and curiosity rather than hard edges and insurmountable walls if we have any desire to resolve and repair what is broken between us.

I’ve not spent much time in my life thinking about power, especially my own. But I think it is important to be aware of how we use (or give away) our power, including the power of our voice, in all of our relationships. We each have the power to choose who we are and how we relate to others. We have power in our gifts and our voice that can we can choose to use in the light or be used by in the shadow. We have the power of sovereignty that we direct or allow to be directed by others. Our deepest liberation lies in our own hands, no matter our outer circumstances. This is what Nelson Mandela and Elie Wiesel teach us. When we live from that place of liberation, we are using our power and our voice to ignite and nurture the flame of liberation in others.

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