V for Voice: victory through vulnerability

Our voices are our identities. Our personalities shine through the way we speak, write, and sign. But with so many voices vying to be heard on the TV, radio, or Internet, achieving influence is a vicious competition to see whose voice is broadcast the widest.

Though I’m not keen on being famous, I wonder how far my voice could take me. My speaking voice is naturally quiet, so I need to train myself not to mumble. I have a visceral fear of talking on the phone because my voice, floating over airwaves without gestures or body language, feels like it’s falling into a vast void. I’m usually the first to sing myself hoarse at karaoke, despite drinking buckets of water. I envy people who have naturally audible voices.

More than that, I envy people who aren’t afraid to express themselves. Speaking up in public or publishing something can incite vehement disagreement from readers and listeners. Famous people fall victim to nasty tweets on the Internet just by sharing their honest opinions. Having absolute confidence in your words and emotions, even in the face of backlash, is a special form of bravery.

The First Amendment protects your right to speak in America, but it doesn’t stop people from judging your speech based on your identity or the quality of your voice. Women are taken less seriously when they unwittingly use vocal fry or sound like high-pitched girls. An accent can give away your social standing as either an unwelcome foreigner or an insider.

Given the limitations on my own soft voice, I rely on visuals and gestures to express myself. I’ve tried learning basic American Sign Language. I write and rewrite my blog posts and emails, attempting to sound both composed and natural. Just like spoken voices, written voices are unique – I can only imitate J.K. Rowling’s vivid style for so long before people discover I’m not her. I still fear being judged for my ideas when they’re in ink or on the Internet, but at least I had time to vet them before they’re released to the world.

Growing up, I’m discovering more ways to wield the power of my voice. It’s amazing how many ways we can speak: vowing our love, voting for and vetoing ideas, and vilifying, vindicating, vexing, and validating others. We can use our tone, volume, and vocabulary to make our opinions known. Dialogue is the glue that holds our society together, if we could also learn to listen to each other and value each other’s experiences.

As much as I fear talking, I know my voice is a tool that I must harness. Having a quiet voice isn’t an excuse for being inarticulate. Speaking up makes me vulnerable to criticism, but it’s the only way I can share and cultivate my ideas with the world and improve my self-confidence. So thank you, my reader, for joining me on this journey to find my voice.

This post is part of the Alphabet Project, where I write an article for each letter of the alphabet. It was inspired by Ash Huang’s Alphabet Meditations.

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