FIND YOUR VOICE
“You must strive to find your own voice because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all.”
Steven Harris’ Journal Entry, August 25
“I have never felt so free! I experienced such a rush of liberation the moment I said good-bye to my dad. Now, don’t get me wrong, he has always been there for me (not thrown in just in case he reads this! – we do share entries from time to time), but now I have so much to do on my own and I can’t wait! Signing up for classes should be interesting and fun, but more than that, checking out the campus is something I really look forward to. Not just what seemed cursory when dad and I visited, but really getting to know it. Going right to unpacking. Back soon!
Journal Entry, August 28
“They call it the lagoon, but of course it really isn’t one. I begin classes soon and I want to familiarize myself with the locations of all of my buildings. The walk should be relaxing…”
He hadn’t witnessed such behavior before. Though not much of an outdoorsman, one would have to imagine that an eighteen-year old from the Midwest would recognize the act of dabbling – of course, there are those who reach two and three times that age and never see it. Yet, the oddness of seeing a duck’s rear-end in the air in such a way was really curious to Steven. He simply had not chanced to see such a thing before. He stood for a bit, observed, chuckled, and continued round the “lagoon.” And truly, as he had noted, it was not a lagoon. At roughly 5 acres of surface area and a maximum depth of five feet, it wasn’t a lake either. But “pond” just didn’t have the ring to it and “lagoon” had stuck for decades. So Steven walked along the path around the lagoon. There was so much to see and it was peaceful. He envisioned reading or somehow otherwise completing homework seated upon one of the many heavy wooden benches, wide enough to sit three, though one would rarely notice that odd number at any time of day. And Steven was looking forward to experiencing something of a legend. He hoped it was true. He sat down on a bench.
He had heard the story of this lagoon having magical powers on one of his early visits to the university. Well, maybe not the lagoon itself, but a particular effect seen and experienced at various times and places. There had to be a scientific explanation for it (the effect, that is – not the results). It had indeed been said that there are times and places, and perhaps only caught in a glimpse out of the corner of one’s eye in which a strange light is sensed coming off of the water in a beautiful and decidedly mystical way – the light above the water sang to the observer. If a student is fortunate enough to see it and then hear the legendary and haunting musical tone that is said to accompany the light, why then, good fortune would follow. The good fortune to be represented by a “B” or better on whatever project or test upon which that student was focusing at the time. There were specific areas in which to sit and wait. Steven, not working on a project or studying for a test quite yet, just hoped to sit through it for now. He was not yet familiar with the prime locations, though he imagined he would get a pretty good idea during mid-terms, had he not been informed by then. The congregations of superstitious students would be a certain tell. Until then, he wanted to enjoy it. He would let his senses just take in the tranquility. And Steven had a strange notion that this place would be tranquil even during a time like mid-terms when hundreds of students would come around. It was that kind of place and he would come here often.
Journal Entry, September 15
I sat on a grassy hill, getting some sun on a wonderful lightly breezy day. The hill was just off the west side of the YMCA. I was studying for a Roman History exam and I knew then that this would be a memory and a time to be remembered. I was at such peace, and with no one else. I can’t even describe the feeling.
My dad had made special mention of enjoying these times. He said that they would be among the best of my life and I would be able to draw from them throughout my years. I am truly fortunate that I have few in the way of cares. My exams seem to be the largest of these. Unlike most, or many to be sure, my room and board are taken care of, classes are paid for (the scholarship was fortunate, though I’d like to think earned), and I have part-time employment. I am able to breathe deeply and be refreshed. This is another example of hard work paying off in peace of mind…
I remember my dad mentioning that many health care professionals advocate the ability for the ill to meditate upon a time when the world was to be theirs and time was limitless with little to worry about. This time here and now, should I ever require such thoughts, would be one to reflect upon and build a positive mind-set and health. I foresee my old age even now (I should probably think less of this, I suppose – y’know, live in the moment). But, I will remember this time.
Journal Entry, September 26
I believe I have met enough people to know what I do not want to be like! I certainly do not want to be like my roommate, Matt. He can be obnoxious, self-centered for sure. I want to be kind, not willfully hurt another, and make those around me better…
Here are things I do not want to be… I do not want to be overly direct – it can be misunderstood. I do not want to be that very important person in the room or conversation. I do not want to be known only for a ‘good heart.’ I don’t want to be know as a poor communicator.
I found it interesting that these traits were ascribed to assholes by my dad. He had zero time for them. I, on the other hand, just don’t wish to be one. I have time for them and actually find some redeeming qualities and value. It would be bullies which I have no time for… The former, I have found in my short time here on earth at least seem to be active and doers. They tend to accomplish things – yes, I know, like irritate others. But, I do not want to generalize. I won’t do it. It’s not fair. I am certain that there are a high percentage of assholes who tend to accomplish little but to torment their fellow man. Well, as I said, I do not want to share any of their traits. Bullies, on the other hand… I cannot tolerate them. My roommate, Matt, is not a bully and I can see through some of his undesirable characteristics and tolerate him. The major differences I find between assholes and bullies (though, remember, people can be both) is that assholes who are not bullies have a brain. Bullies will force their way through life with the hope that they do not get exposed. Bullies can’t endure a real conversation or debate. They are not too bright and are unable to effectively counter any sound thought or point of reference. So, talking through others is a common tactic. Don’t let the other party speak and you might get through an argument. Most see through this. Another key trait I have noticed of bullies is to access obscure knowledge in the attempt to appear more intelligent than they are. To quote information of which many might be unaware can be impressive, I suppose. To do so consistently and to seem to make certain that no one else knows about it and stay on the point is a sure sign of insecurity. So I surely do not wish to be like this. And so, among other things, I am direct to the extent it is helpful but not judgemental. I am not very important. My good-hearted nature is not my only positive trait. And my communication skills are excellent. I listen as well as anyone and make people feel important and intelligent.
Journal Entry, October 12
I dismissed him as if he were somehow less than human. I felt terrible!
The brightness was not just an inconvenience, it was worrisome. He walked quickly along the north side of the main route reduced in town to main street, occasionally taking a hit from reflections off of glass here and mirrors there. He had forgotten his sunglasses, but not being a slave to the stylish, he hadn’t thought much of it. It had nothing to do with that now, he mused. He could have used them to prevent the near-certain retinal damage that was taking place. The black spot in the very center of my vision is surely coming, he thought anxiously. The awnings were of little help this time of day and he wished he had waited to venture downtown to pick up running gear from the local sporting goods store. Relief finally came when he turned quickly through the doors from under the red store front of Tilton’s. The relative dimness and air conditioning were welcome. It was a particularly warm October day, he thought. Too bad he didn’t have more time to spend in the store.
He made a quick right out of Tilton’s. He had his stuff – now he wanted the best burrito in town. Steven had a fast pace always, and he had broken away to a ten or fifteen yard advantage. The skinny, nearly hairless, arm with many veins, some purplish, caught him in a flash though. Steven had noticed him too late in his field of vision to move away. The old man had a purpose. The tight grip scared Steven, but he pulled out of it with relative ease. Strength was on his side, but certainly not fervor. Steven stopped though. He looked at the man.
The skin on his face was like thin leather and checkered with wrinkles. His eyes protruded noticeably and he was perspiring more than the temperature would draw out of most. His white hair and beard were long and unkempt. He stood roughly six feet and a best guest would place his weight below 150 pounds. Little muscle mass, even for his apparent age, and malnourished, to be sure.
“Where do you want to go when you die?” the man asked, seemingly out of the blue, but, unknown to Steven, there was a reason – a good one.
Steven became unnerved, so much agitation was in the eyes of the old man. The younger man responded flippantly. Immature perhaps, but the hope was to disarm his new acquaintance.
Clearly this was not the answer.
“You need to take this seriously!” the old man countered harshly. “Here. Take this…”
He handed Steven a card.
The card was for a church. He was recruiting. A penance? Steven wondered. It didn’t matter. Surely, this was better than his initial thoughts, that this man was crazy and would send him to meet his maker if the answer had been right.
“What’s your name? I am Steven.”
“My name is Leo. You must find the Lord.”
“I will come see you at church. Sorry, though, Leo… I have to go now.”
Steven turned at a high rate of speed, walking away with purpose and relief.
Journal Entry, November 3
The primary assignment my dad asked me to accomplish this fall semester was to define and pursue a voice. He said, ‘Find your voice.’ When I asked him what he meant and if he was referring to how one speaks, he replied ‘Well, not exactly… Your voice is made up of your values. Your voice dictates your actions as well, for your actions must be consistent to your desired voice. It is so important to FIND YOUR VOICE, and early, if possible. Before you find your desired voice, you should identify what you represent now. Who are you? Do you have values, attributes which support those values? What do you stand for? What defines you? Well, here is what I have discovered so far…
“I am concerned with right and wrong. I do not wish to talk over people. I do not wish to ‘one-up’ everyone. People who talk too much become ineffective communicators.
Journal Entry, November 5
But, boy, does my roommate have an opinion on everything! Passion is one thing, control another…
With all of his faults, he is not a bad guy. Like most of us, I’m sure he just wants to live and be happy. He doesn’t seem to be very good at that, however. Around others, he is upbeat; around me he just complains. I do remember that I thought I saw him jogging around the lagoon when I was doing my first personal orientation tour. He was with a buddy of his, I imagine from the baseball team. This was before I really knew what a pain-in-the-ass he could be so I wasn’t as surprised as I would have been now that I had seen him laughing and joking and enjoying his run. Like I said, he just wants to live and be happy. Getting to know him, I just wish he could be himself and be happy…
He should have seen it coming. Though, the odds, so early in the morning, on such a remote side-street, off of an equally remote rural road were so slim that none would have expected it to be sure. Yet, most accidents are not truly accidents. Most crashes are the result of irresponsibility on the part of one or all parties. And while one of these two parties was irresponsible, driving while fatigued, the other, unconscious through no fault of his own, made the argument and conclusion clear… Tragic accident. Indeed, he might have seen it coming, had he been aware. It would not have mattered. The other driver, slumped and incoherent, accelerated through the “T” so quickly and without warning that no one could have reacted effectively. The corn field caught them both.
Journal Entry, November 8
“So my roommate, well, ‘ex-roommate’ is going to need a new hip. It could have been so much worse. I don’t think he believes it now, but he is one lucky guy. Apparently, in an absolutely perfect version of bad luck (if you believe in that sort of thing), a fella with a medical condition passed out and T-boned Matt sending them both off the road. The airbags saved that guy’s life. Matt should have been spared his injury too. Just and odd impact, I suppose. Others have died from an odd impact. Either way, I feel for him.
Matt is a bit of a jerk, but we’ve gotten closer over the semester. Matt works hard at his studies and was a fine athlete – we’ll see how this turns out. The shot at the majors is more than likely gone. He is a bit insecure maybe and he is an imitator. It seems as though he would always prefer to be someone else. He is certainly different around others than he is with me – when it is just him and I, I guess there is no one to impress for sure. I suppose our desire to be more than we are or somehow hiding who we are is natural for a lot of us, though, when we are with strangers.
I remember going through such a stage late in grade school. My dad didn’t demand I change, but he effectively put a stop to it…
I recall I had picked up a trait from an older cousin whom I admired greatly. It was a unique laugh and I took it on as my own. It was when I copied a twitch from a friend of mine that my Dad told me about a book he had read by Dale Carnegie. Though the title had to do with worry, Dad referenced a part in which Carnegie wrote the following:
“Let’s not imitate others. Let’s find ourselves and be ourselves. For envy is ignorance and imitation is suicide.”
That is a pretty powerful set of words! I am uncertain as to whether I agree with the limit to which it stretches with the suicide reference, but I long ago removed envy from my being. I wouldn’t want to be anyone else for a million dollars. The fun and wonder is to discover what I am able to make of myself.
Anyway, back to Matt. I will follow his recovery and stay in touch with him.
Journal Entry, November 17
My Dad wrote the following many years ago…
“My voice is calm, yet firm. I am self-assured and I do not hesitate or stutter. However, I do not talk too much. I do not offer what has not been asked. My demeanor is steady. I am not flustered easily, even upon verbal attack. I hang upon every word of those with whom I converse. My goal is to make them feel more intelligent and important. Others will then share with me and I will learn.
When challenged, criticized, or admonished, I will calmly ask what has brought about such thoughts or ideas. What conclusion has been drawn and what is the source or information behind this conclusion? Do we assume these things to be true? If so, why? What are alternatives? My voice defends those less fortunate. I am honest and kind and just.”
I just wanted to include this portion of what my dad had described because I think I would keep those things above all for my voice, if it is within me. Remember, a voice is discovered, not just created. And a voice has much more to do with than how you sound when you speak. It is what and how your entire being says and speaks to others. I will have to ask him, because I am unsure, as to when this was written by dad. It certainly seems to have a slant toward the interaction with others. At any rate, here is what I will share with him…
As I believe my voice is represented by my entire being I will begin with the manner in which I move. When I lack confidence, I tend to slouch and look at my feet while I trudge slowly through life. I know dad doesn’t have the best posture, but that is congenital. He actually does pretty well, and he certainly doesn’t trudge! Nor will I. I will focus upon how I move when I am most confident and ready for what awaits me. I stand straight and walk with a brisk and purposeful stride. My head is up and I look passersby in the eyes. Mine is not an intimidating stare, but an expression of acknowledgement and good will. Not to be important by any means, but for future influence, I want to catch the attention of those not looking directly at me as well. ‘Who is that?’ I do want them to think. I do not believe this will hurt me with women either and will serve better than the direct and obnoxious approach I have observed with Matt’s friends. Speaking of observations… I went to visit Matt and he is moving around very well. He is not using a walker, but a cane! Technology is remarkable! He told me the doctor said he would not even have a limp in a year or so.
Anyway, back to my task at hand… Aside from what I have written before, and I will repeat myself, I wish to keep my opinion to myself in public, unless asked. Being opinionated or bringing forth one about everything is not a strong character trait, in my mind. It can certainly create boorish behavior. I will be humble and courteous. “Yes, sir.” “No ma’am.” “Please.” Thank you.” All of these will be a part of me. People who are respected feel empowered and are more inclined to help you. But, all of this goes back to what I wrote on September 26th. Simple courtesy to a fellow human being makes them better. People are deserving of respect until they consistently prove otherwise.
Momentum slid the patio door shut behind him – he had his hands full. He nodded to his father. Though he was some fifty yards away, he saw his father’s acknowledgement in the glow of the fire pit. Steven carried a gallon of freshly-made tea, and an ice bucket. Perhaps the ice was not necessary, but he brought it anyway. The dusk was fading into a cool November night.
“Does everyone have to search for or develop a voice?” Steven asked when they were both settled.
“No. Certainly not. Many times, the voice comes to them and fits them and their needs well. Or, if the voice is inherent and unchanged, it’s because the individual never takes times to acknowledge it and understand what it is…”
“Are these people naïve or stupid?”
“Not necessarily. Sometimes.” Ben laughed. “But more often they either accept it because it serves them well, or they do not believe it can be changed.”
“Or,” Steven interjected, “they do not believe that the effort and sacrifice is worth it to them.”
His dad smiled.
“Isn’t that true of all forms of self-improvement? That is more a part of any secret than the famous example my friend and I spoke about before you left for college in the summer. It’s not about just imagining or dreaming. It’s about work, and proper work at that. Do you truly believe someone will cure anxiety from their money issues just by thinking about being rich all of the time?”
“No, of course not,” Steven scoffed. “Even if one were able to condition his or her mind well enough to stave off stress in that way, eventually reality will set in again and life will suck. Right?”
“Let’s get away from life sucking for now… Before we talk about what voice you have created and what you have observed, tell me the major take away from your search and journey (task).”
“Well, and I think this is a major understanding. For some, their voice does not need alteration. They believe in, stand for, and act on the right things, and still they are not progressing, not happy. Others need a complete overhaul! Some only minor tweeks. It’s a process for most. Ongoing, never-ending.”
“You are correct. For most, it is so.”
“I have one more thing I’d like to add… If your voice is representative of your values, what you choose to live by, but you are unable to do so, or even communicate those values. Boy, is that tough on them. So unfortunate. How can we know what is going on in someone else’s mind?”
“We cannot. No one knows what is in the mind of another human being.”
Coming out of the shadows, I had heard the last statement clearly.
“I concur,” I said.
“Uncle David!” Steven jumped up and welcomed me. We hugged.
“Hey buddy! Hi Ben. Thanks for inviting me over.”
I had just seen Steven last summer when we had gone golfing. It had been so little time, but he seemed to have had a growth spurt. He was nearing 6 feet 1 inch as well as I could figure – he now had me by that inch, or two. His first semester seemed to do him well. Always a good-looking kid with dark hair and green eyes, he seemed to have even more glow – and it wasn’t the fire. His confidence might have grown a bit, too. He seemed to carry himself differently somehow.
While the evening passed, Ben and Steven brought me up to speed on what had been discussed with respect to the discoveries during Steven’s first semester. Ben then asked me if I was ready to continue to the next step also. Steven clearly was. I had a comment or two and a couple of questions. I summed up what I had heard and what I had learned for myself over these past few months..
“It seems,” I began, “that all is permissible regarding one’s own voice so long as the Golden Rule is followed. What I mean is, whoever we discover we truly are, however we communicate or carry ourselves, we must remember to treat others as we wish to be treated.”
“That’s a start Uncle Dave but I disagree a bit. We must treat them better and under the rules we have learned. Some of us might be more sensitive than others, for example. Kindness, honesty, justice, courtesy, compassion, empathy… All of these things are necessary.
“Yes,” Ben jumped in, “But we still should be influential. If you wish this, your voice should be a difference maker in people’s lives. Steven, you mentioned the old, homeless man you ran into and how terribly you felt because you believed you dismissed him. Please tell David a bit about this.”
I held up my hand. I had another question.
“Before we move into that, I had the specific feeling that both you and Steven took severe issue with dominant personalities imposing their will. Can you guys speak to that just a bit?”
Ben spoke up.
“A dominant voice is not a bad thing at all. We both talk about influence. In fact, Dave, you mentioned something similar earlier this year when you wondered if you would have been even more successful if you have been more ruthless.”
“I remember,” I said. “You told me nothing worthwhile would come of it.”
“There are a couple of reasons for that. The first is that nothing good in the long-term is developed from ruthlessness and, two, you are not wired that way. Your voice would have been manufactured to overcome too much of your nature and therefore it would not be sustainable.”
“I do understand that and worked on sustainability over the past months, but let’s get back to you guys and your assholes and bullies. Do you believe these things to be inherent? Aren’t people just born that way?”
Steven sipped his tea and then held up his hand.
“That sounds like a different and deep philosophical discussion – maybe for another time. It could take a while. But, no, uncle Dave, I don’t believe people are born that way. And the two are different from one another. We can discuss that later, too. I would like to know if we’re on the same page moving into the goals period.”
“First, let’s get back to your old man Steven. Tell David what happened.
Steven related the story.
“Wow,” I said. “I would have been a little worried by the guy too. Certainly put off and dismissive. The way he approached you, I don’t think you have anything to feel bad about.
“But, I do,” he said, his expression sorrowful.
Ben took the time to address both Steven’s concern and my question…
“With respect to your homeless man Steven, do you believe he is dangerous?
“I don’t anymore. If he were, had certainly had his chance to be. He is trying to find his way. In his mind, he has his purpose. His voice is another matter. And he’s practically emaciated. His ability to wield anything is surely limited. Even so. He’s scary. He is not someone I would like to know.”
“Yet, you feel remorse for dismissing him and his purpose?”
I could almost see the wisdom coming. Ben was going to tell Steven to do something difficult.
“Then seek him out,” Ben said. “Take a meaningful path and find him. Buy him a meal. Get to know him better. You know most wouldn’t do this.”
“I don’t feel comfortable with that, no matter how right it might be.”
“That is why you must.” Ben paused. “And I’ll leave it at that. When you find him next semester, let me know how it goes. Make it one of your short-term goals.”
“What do I say?” Steven asked.
“How about ‘Let’s go have breakfast. I’ll buy.’ See what happens.”
Steven brightened, remembering that we are all able to learn and gain from one another.”
“I will,” he said.
And I knew he would.
Ben got up and stoked the fire.
“Okay, David. About your assholes and bullies. This won’t take long.
Ben went into his explanation. As we had talked about during our conversation, assholes are as follows:
- They are the most important people in the world, room, or conversation.
- They are only known as having a “good heart.” There is not much else one can say about them.
- They are overly direct and rude.
- They are obnoxious and self-centered.
- They speak over others.
- They are known as “poor communicators.”
Ben said that there were more traits, but he didn’t wish to pursue the point. Bullies were much easier to explain.
Referencing positive traits of leadership, Ben simply reversed them. Bullies, he said:
- Are not kind
- Do willfully harm others
- Make those around them worse.
Simple enough, Ben said. But he added a bit…
“The reason I think I have devoted so much time to these people is that there are so many of them. Here is an interesting point for everyone, however. Once you find your own voice, the influence of these people over you dissipates tremendously. This is why it is so important to know them.
I had a couple of beers left and they had plenty of iced tea. We left these subjects and talked about sports until the night went a bit long.
Journal Entry, December 26
I now go to bed at night knowing who I want to be and thinking about how to get there. Now, that’s liberating.
Speaking of knowing who one wants to be and finding a voice, Matt is recovering well and based on his experience in therapy, he wants to devote himself to making that ordeal easier for everyone. More than that, he wants to develop technique to improve the field. This is where his studies will now focus. And he seems to have calmed a bit.
My first semester has been successful and I am ready to set new goals build upon what I have learned. Until next year!
CHAPTER ONE EXERCISES:
Make a list of the top ten positive character traits you find important in yourself and others… Make a list of the top ten most negative traits which you cannot tolerate in others or yourself. Look up the meanings, if necessary. Understand them. Read examples of them. Circle three of each for now and focus upon exemplifying the positive and eliminating the negative.
Pretend you are describing a character in a novel – that character is you! Give a description of age, appearance, thoughts, fears, strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. Describe health and mental outlook. Write it down. Is this who you thought you would be? Is this what you would have wanted to be? What would you change, if you could?
Now, you do the same thing. Except, you are to describe a person 3 to 5 years from now. You. And 3 to 5 years from now. Are you different? Let’s find out how to get you there…
Integrity; Honesty; Loyalty; Respect; Responsibility; Humility; Compassion; Fairness; Forgiveness; Authenticity; Courageousness; Generosity; Perseverance; Politeness/Courtesy; Kindness; Lovingness; Optimism; Reliability; Consciencesness; Self-Discipline; Ambitiousness; Encouragement; Thoroughness.
Egocentric; Pessimistic; Needing to be right; Greed; Dishonesty; Judgemental; Manipulative; Narcissistic; Vindictive; Aggressive or Passive-Aggressive; Predatory; Unforgiving.
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