Voiceless Voicefull


As I write to you now I have largely lost my voice. I hope it returns for the bonfire/winter solstice/acceptable face of paganism I’m attending tonight.

My wife and I, while we were courting a couple of Hogmanays ago, both lost our voices, in I assure you totally unrelated incidents…, within 24 hours of each other. The day Lily lost her voice she coped remarkably – so expressive, patient and imaginative is she. She has sign language and theatre training and made for a perfect poorly Pierrot. The day I lost my voice was quite different. I am a confident communicator, comfortable expressing myself but without my voice I scurried around hunched and contorted scratching messages on to blotched, folded up pieces of paper. I was frustrated, worn out, flinty.

I learned a lot from that. The difference a small change can make that pulls you out of the ‘fast track.’ It gave me sympathy for others who are pushed to the periphery, somehow disenfranchised, sidelined. Imagine the refugee unable to express themselves naturally and comfortably the effort they have to put in to be understood, involved, respected.

As a white, middle class, heterosexual male I’m usually listened to. I know how to command space, dialogue, events. I am good at broadcasting what I want and need. This is because my forbears have set everything up to work this way. Our society still relies on patterns of communication I am genetically and socially predisposed to have. Without my voice I get a humbling glimpse of what it is like to not have that power and status, to not so easily slip into the mainstream, to be heard, involved, respected.

There are several kinds of power. The power of the dominant is not necessarily the most powerful power. Those who are oppressed, marginalised, on the fringes – have to learn how to operate in the mainstream dominant worldview but can also pull on the subversive, creative, enriching resources of the unexpected, alternative and nuanced.

It’s like Scots and English. People who speak Scots have been made to feel inferior – are told the lie they are only speaking slang – that they should drop it in order to ‘get on’. But actually if you can understand English but also speak the immersive, compelling, evocative Scots then that’s a form of power. We’re bilingual by the way. We have broader and more complex frameworks to hold things. The refugee who has recently arrived in Scotland is a powerful person able to bring much light and love to our lives if we listen, not just speak.

If you’re a white dude – maybe you should try not talking sometimes, not so as to give up power but to tap into a whole new power that comes from listening, being attentive and empathetic.

You’ll gain a whole new voice.


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