Discover more from madreality
on my silence
And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter, when I told her of our topic and my difficulty with it, said, 'Tell them about how you're never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there's always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don't speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside.' Audre Lorde, Your Silence Will Not Protect You
I'm thinking about the mad voice, the one that speaks truth because it has shed all self-containment and discretion. Is there a place in our world for that voice, the voice that refuses to compromise or fit itself into consensus? Those who know me, know that I sometimes struggle to speak up – particularly in groups – and that I prefer to share my thoughts from behind the safe haven of a laptop screen. So I'm taking these words of Audre Lorde and her daughter, and applying them to myself, and of course I am afraid.
That's what it boils down to: sheer unholy fear. Fear of being the idiot, fear of saying the thing that leads the conversation into an awkward impasse, fear of being challenged and coming up short. Fear of my words being taken away from me and reframed into something else entirely by my father's standard catchphrase, “what you mean to say is...”
I can only remember one conversation with him in which I maintained and even prevailed. We were driving to Champaign to help my sister move from her flat, and somehow we got onto the topic of my vegetarianism. I had just finished reading Diet for a Small Planet and was freshly armed with facts about the industrial food system and the environmental damage wrought by meat production. With every stab at shooting me down, he discovered that I was able to deflect him with both information and passion. Why am I remembering this now? Because winning the argument didn't satisfy me; he didn't acknowledge or praise my debating skills or my integrity or my capacity to think for myself. We arrived at our destination and he simply gave up trying to convince me that I was wrong. I want to say that he sulked but I'm not sure that would be a fair recollection – but in any case, it's a painful memory. How much I wanted him to say, hey that's interesting and I'm proud that you've been reading and forming an opinion, I respect that and want to hear more about your views. Instead I felt ashamed to have disrupted his equanamity during the car ride, and made my amends in an effort to appease him.
So when I'm acknowledging my fear speaking up and of being heard, what I'm really doing is acknowedging a fear that there won't be love at the other end of what I have to say.
Which leads me to Pema Chődrőn and her lovely book The Places that Scare You, in which she describes the Buddhist practice of tonglen. She writes:
Tonglen, or exchanging oneself for others, is another bodhichitta practice for activating loving-kindness and compassion. In Tibetan the word tonglen literally means 'sending and taking.' It refers to being willing to take in the pain and suffering of ourselves and others and to send out happiness to us all.
When I focus on loving-kindness, I can recognise his own insecurity at being caught out or thought unintelligent. My dad was the first one in his family to go to college, and I think that he desperately admired and coveted the intellectual life – and felt thwarted by the immense responsibities he carried in working to support a wife and children as well as a mother and younger brother. Part of that vision he worked so hard for was to secure private education for his children in the form of Catholic prep schools. For all I know, he felt intimidated by me and my superiour education. For all I know, my passionate arguing during that car ride alarmed him and made him feel inadequate. For all I know, he just wanted to be loved as much as I did.
So I end this reflection with another nod to the mad voice, the voice which speaks truth so openly and honestly. In the spirit of tonglen, I take in my breath with all this sorrow and regret, and I exhale with forgiveness and love. Honestly, what I've got to say is pretty good stuff.
(Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash)