“The root word for courage is cor – the latin word for heart … Courage originally meant, ‘to speak one’s mind, by telling all one’s heart.’ …I think we have lost touch with the idea that speaking openly and honestly about who we are, about what we’re feeling and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage. Heroics is often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that is pretty extraordinary.” – Brene’ Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection.
Last weekend, I had the unfortunate experience of NOT speaking my mind.
I was at an advanced professional therapy conference – one where there were only 30 attendees, all peers of sorts. We were given the dreaded “group project” – the sort of thing you do with team building; however this was done straight out of the gates – we had done introductions, but you know how it is – very few remembered nor cared what the other person’s name or position was.
In the context of this “experience” the 12 of us were told to develop a treatment plan. However, we were not told whom we were treating, nor how much time we had to develop this plan. We didn’t know ages, issues, number of clients. In short, we were sent out with a bunch of props and told to create something.
It was chaos.
One thing I failed to mention – involved in this “treatment plan” were 6 horses loose in an arena. And now our job was to integrate them with the 12 of us and some bits of string.
It was pandemonium. The animals were nervous. The people were upset and all yelling different ideas toward one another. Few were listening. At one point, I said to no one in particular, “This is so stupid.” A person next to me agreed.
When “time” was called, we were pulled back into the larger group and asked to debrief. Many people were angry; a few, downright hostile. Accusations were flying. I was dumbfounded at these “professionals” who had basically lost it out there. Granted several were quite young, not finished with their training, but still.
We were told that the next day we would do it again and to come up with our own goal. Within seconds, people said, “communication and cohesiveness.” It was the only thing our group agreed on – that we needed some form of communication and a way to get on the same page.
The following day, we were told we had 25 minutes to develop an intervention to work toward communication and cohesion. Feeling somewhat hopeless, I asked the group if they felt like it would be useful to have a facilitator – could they appoint one person to moderate the discussion? That fell on deaf ears and the non-verbal vibe was SHUT UP.
A person in the group pointed out that people weren’t listening to one another and interrupting. Someone else suggested a “talking stick” – that whoever held the object could talk and everyone else would listen. A person offered up their coffee spoon as the “stick.” Someone else took it and began to talk.
Okay. I’m fine with this. Whatever works. Sometimes people need a structure to help.
As people took the spoon and shared their ideas, I realized that three individuals across the circle had not spoken. I asked for the spoon, and said that I would like to pass the spoon to them and hear what they had to say.
At that point, one of the silent three exploded and GLARED at me with intense anger. She said loudly, “I AM NOT A DAMN CHILD THAT I NEED TO BE TOLD WHEN I CAN SPEAK AND WHEN I CAN’T. I WILL NOT BE SILENCED AND I DON’T NEED YOU TO TELL ME WHEN I CAN TALK AND WHEN I CAN’T.” Her eye contact never left mine – it was like she was holding me personally responsible for the spoon thing.
Silence hung in the air as the whole group stared at us. I put the spoon in my back pocket.
Generally, I am not at a loss for words, but I felt like anything from me would be gasoline on a fire. However, my mind had plenty to say, such as, “Wow. She’s got issues.” And, “Really? You’re going to haul off and attack me for this spoon thing? I’m not the one who suggested it. Where do you get off being so RUDE?” And then there was the self-righteous thought: this little snot is not going to rattle me … I’ll just stand here, unflappable and NICE. That’ll show her!” (You’re brain does weird things when it is under fire).
After an eternal pause one of the other participants, a woman with tightly curled hair said, “Do you have a suggestion that would make this better?”
Aggressive girl kept yelling. “I DON’T KNOW, BUT I WON’T BE SILENCED. AND NO ONE IS GOING TO TELL ME WHEN I CAN TALK AND WHEN I CAN’T”
Curly engaging woman: “I have to say that right now, I feel I could do something and you could get really, really angry, but I don’t know what that thing is. It’s like there are unspoken rules that we don’t know about. I don’t like that feeling. Is there something that you can say that would help me understand?”
I knew exactly how she was feeling. Like if I say anything, this is going to disintegrate. I thought it took remarkable courage for her to speak so openly.
Aggressive girl softened and began to share her feelings in a more rational manner. Others began to speak.
People began talking, and shortly thereafter, the facilitators interrupted and said the time was up.
Later, I had lunch with Jill and we debriefed the situation.
I asked her what made her willing to risk speaking up. She said that she had just finished treatment for breast cancer and that she was no longer willing to not speak her truth.
“When you know your own truth and you chose to not say it, it damages you. I need to take care of myself and I am not willing to stay silent any longer. And if it makes others uncomfortable, so be it.”
I think Jill is right … staying silent is toxic to your soul. It damages you. It damages me. One of the things I really don’t like about myself is that, in the face of aggressive behavior -whether verbal or otherwise, I shrink. I disappear. Perhaps, I lose my courage. Or maybe I am just patterned to remain quiet.
I admired Jill’s courage and her openness. And I hope at some point, I get better at risking true honesty. I wish I had said to aggressive girl – “You know, you don’t have to attack people. Generally, if you are respectful, they will respect you back.” But I didn’t. I said nothing. And that is my bad.
Yet I don’t have to remain this way – I can GROW toward risking more. Bit by bit, I’m working on getting better at speaking my truth.