– Maggie Kuhn, human rights activist who dedicated her life to social and economic justice.
The first time I saw this quote, I wondered if this should become my next tattoo. It covered my body in chills and pierced any doubt around voice I’ve ever had.
When I was young, I watched my dad use his voice through his writings. I remember the time he wrote an email to the President of the Christian college where he taught, sharing his disgust with the school for its swift action in kicking out students who were “misbehaving” rather than truly addressing the issue. Just removing the “problem” without addressing the issue is a short-term solution.
However, it wasn’t until I entered the corporate world that I really began to comprehend that my voice matters.
Another tool in my childhood survival kit was humor and politeness, if I could make people in my community laugh and also behave well, life felt a little easier. I unconsciously lived by this mentality in my early years in business. I worked my ass off, made colleagues laugh, turned in reports on time, remained positive even when I wasn’t totally feeling it and did my best to go above and beyond – so as not to disappoint my boss. As a result, I began to climb the corporate ladder and also found myself more and more unsettled with leadership’s actions.
At one point, as a manager of a team of fourteen field reps across the United States, I found myself writing an email to the President of the corporation in protest of a new mandate that the company had put on my team. This mandate forced all of us to do away with our previous company cars, which the company had supplied us with, to personally purchase a Honda Element for the same work. We were also instructed to wrap our cars with the company’s logo in bright, bold orange letters. This was not ok, nor was it just. Many of us were fresh out of college, young and had never bought a new car, nor would we ever have chosen to buy that particular make and model of car. In my letter, I not only stated that this was not right, I also was completely transparent in stating that I would not enforce this with my team.
For me, voice is not only synonymous with truth and standing up for justice, it is a full body experience.
When I sat down to write that letter to the President of the corporation, I had no idea how it would turn out. Would I get fired? Would I be asked to step down and out of my position? The outcome didn’t matter. Using my voice for justice, because my heart was guiding me to, was the only thing that mattered and there was no stopping the words that burst from my fingers and onto those computer keys.
Despite all the challenging emotions and questions that came, I spoke my truth. Rather than getting fired, they promoted me and less than a year later, this mandate was dropped.
Now, I am also someone who tends to always side with the underdog. I’ve had a different boss tell me that I can get wound up too easily by others, and he’s right, sometimes. If I’m not careful, it is during those times that using my voice backfires, hard. So, a word of warning – it’s really important to pause to check your motive before waxing poetic. This is why dropping into my heart before acting has become so important – to make sure I am not just acting on an emotion.
There is no formula, or step by step guide. The only contant is your choice within each moment. I worked with a small team on an acknowledgment for Patagonia that we recently released on social media. While we could have edited that piece for many more weeks, the process was pretty dang strong. Words were carefully written, re-written, thought about and re-written again. It took us weeks of working on this acknowledgment before it felt worthy of sharing.
The world is already on fire, through our pause to hear how to use our voice we will either choose to fuel the flames or smother the embers. For me personally, amidst the chaos, I am doing my best to pause and only use my voice when it feels appropriate. And even then, my voice may shake mid-sentence. But when I’m speaking for truth and for justice, I know that those who need to hear my message will hear it.
Will you join me?
Whitney Conner Clapper: