The Courage To Be a Silence Breaker

courage to be silence breaker

I was happy to see TIME Magazine’s 2017 “Person of the Year” cover, honoring the incredible women who spoke out against not just their individual experiences of being violated or harassed, but about the larger systems that create an environment where harassment can occur. (Though if I’m honest, I also felt a little skeptical, given TIME’s choice for 2016 and their choice for this year’s runner-up. Are they kidding? More on how they handled this year’s choice, too, below).

Nonetheless, I honor the incredible courage of all women who come forward to tell their stories. I can’t imagine there’s a single woman alive who hasn’t been on the receiving end of, at the very least, street harassment, and of course predatory behaviors only scale up, from there. And, as anyone on the receiving end of this kind of oppression knows, there are consequences for speaking out: being discredited, disbelieved, even threatened.

But what’s resonated with me, the most, is the fact that it was a critical mass of community that helped foster the courage for more people to speak out.

When abuse happens, isolation perpetuates it. Every woman knows that if she alone makes a claim of assault or abuse, her story will likely be discredited; if there are multiple women saying that the same person has harassed, assaulted, or abused them, there’s at least a chance that her story will be given some merit (current U.S. presidents and Alabama child molesters running for office being dogged and unfortunate examples of how much farther we have to go before women will be truly respected in our culture).

Reach out and Create Community

This website often talks about the courage to go after personal dreams. You’re not wrong to do the internal work that makes your individual life, better. I believe that is because when someone’s integrity and their deepest desires are aligned, more good is created in the world.

But the courage to be a silence breaker is all about making sure that others can live better lives, too.The courage to be a silence breaker starts with one small, individual voice, and then gains momentum in community.

It’s the community that gets the job done to effect real human change.

It’s taking the personal experience of one woman, and showing the world how this abuse, this manipulation and harassment and assault, is actually the experience of every woman—somewhere on the continuum, every.single.woman. experiences some kind of violation. For some, it’s as (relatively) simple as street harassment and cat-calling, and for others it’s as horrific as human trafficking and sexual slavery.

Bottom line: we’ve got to reach out and create community, if we want to see a better world.

Speaking of Lone Voices

As I understand it, Tarana Burke was the woman who originally started the #MeToo movement. She’s got an entire website, here: https://metoomvmt.org/ .

The power is in the collective, in reaching out and creating community. Momentum can build, from that place. But the person who truly gets things started? The first one to throw a hat into the ring, and risk being discredited, being ridiculed, being physically harmed? I offer a deep bow of respect and recognition. And frankly, TIME’s choice not to include Tarana on the cover is another reason for my skepticism about their publication.

One Last Thing

Momentum is building, in large part because people are starting to question one tiny-big thing: who we choose to believe, and who we don’t.

When we don’t believe the people who come forward with their stories, and when we place an incredible burden of proof upon them, and when our institutions discredit people based on the circumstances of race, gender, social class and more, the people who are the survivors of assault are often forced to remain isolated.

Ages ago, I was a rape crisis counselor. Embedded into the framework of our training was that we always believed survivors—no matter the story—because that was our job as people in a support role. “After all,” I remember our training facilitator sharing, “There’s an entire world out there who won’t believe the people who report what happened.”

Let’s make it our job to believe people when they tell us their stories.

Do Hard Things

you must do hard things

I wish I could tell you that it is different than it actually is.

Here is how it actually is: you must you get to do hard things.

I wish I could tell you that there is some way to “know” that you are ready.

Here is how it actually is: you must you get to do hard things.

I wish I could tell you that there is a guarantee on the other side of your fear.

Here is how it actually is: you must you get to do hard things.

I wish that rewards came to anyone simply by virtue of their character, by being a good person.

Here is how it actually is: you must you get to do hard things.

I wish that it could be like the movies and after persisting, there’d be a breakthrough and life would never again have valleys.

Here is how it actually is: you must you get to do hard things.

This is Not a Disaster

This is not a disaster. It’s imperative that we all stop, and recognize something: we’ve been conditioned.

We’ve been conditioned to think that there are people who get to entirely bypass suffering, in life.

You’ve been conditioned to think…that you’ll just “know” that you’re ready and thus have unwavering confidence; that there are guarantees if you just move into your fear; that good people always win; that there are breakthroughs where life is never again difficult or challenging.

But—this news, that our conditioning is wrong, is not a disaster.

I think that it’s an opportunity.

I think that we waste a lot of time, waiting around for life to look like our conditioning. I think that we have more gains when we don’t “know” if we are ready but we go out on a limb in the direction of our dreams, anyway. I think that nothing builds character quite like being the good person who learns from failure. I think that life’s best breakthroughs will only ever open the door to more challenging questions.

Stop Waiting

From a young age I remember being acutely aware that with every passing day, I’ve got one less day of life. That’s just how the fortunes of time tip, for all of us.

This awareness can be one of two things: anxiety-inducing, or highly motivating.

Stop waiting.

You want to write a book? Start a business? Fall in love? Campaign for justice? Paint murals? Learn languages and travel the world? Experience multiple orgasms? Go back to school and major in something impractical? Become an activist? Move to an entirely new city?

Stop waiting for guarantees, confidence, or to “know” anything.

You won’t get it, and every moment that you wait is one less day of your life.

You’ve got the gift of something precious, here, with this air in your lungs. That’s all the gift you need. No special talent and no special connections required. You’ll get your knocks and bruises just like everyone else. And because you went out on a limb in the name of your deep dream? You’ll get something bolder and bigger than you could have imagined: your courageous life.

The odds are that you’ll survive rejection (so don’t be too afraid to ask)

too afraid to ask

Back in 2010, when I decided that I would create the Courageous Living Program, I went over to my book shelf and quietly took every book from every personal growth writer I’d ever loved off of the shelf. These were the books that had meant the world to me. Changed me. Given me the inspiration to write my own permission slip. Reminded me that I could go on when I was mired in my own self-doubt.

I took those books over to my computer, began searching for contact information, and then wrote simple, straightforward emails asking if I could interview each person about their work.

Every.Single.Time. that I pressed “send,” I felt my hands shake. There was nothing easy about this process. The first email was definitely the hardest, and subsequent emails were less hard–but at no time did the process feel easy.

I kept going only because I really believed in the program and how it could help people, and because I didn’t want to be too afraid to ask . I figured that the only thing holding me back would be if I was too afraid to ask , and that wasn’t an acceptable option.

After all, I reminded myself, if I wasn’t too afraid to ask then the worst that would happen is the person would say “no.”

And if they said “no”? I’d go right back to being the same person I’d been before I made the request. Someone saying “no” wasn’t going to cost me anything.

But being too afraid to ask? That would cost me, dearly.

We can’t do life, alone. We all know that, yet most of us try to get by on our own efforts, our own tiny will, because risking rejection can feel like too much. In that way, reaching out and being willing to ask is an initiation, of sorts. You become initiated into taking a stand for something that matters deeply to you, when you risk rejection.

As I write this, I’m months away from when my first book, The Courage Habit (New Harbinger Publications), will be out in the world. Once again, I’m needing to write emails and ask.

It still doesn’t feel easy, to ask. Every “yes” is one piece of the larger puzzle of getting this book out into the world. The “yes” responses will add up to make a formidable difference in this book’s life.

But, I keep reminding myself: The worst that can happen, is they say “no.” The odds are that you’ll survive rejection.

And, I say “yes” to this project. I say yes, I say yes, I say yes. And my own “yes” is the most important yes.

If you get the sacred yes that you wish for, of course it will open doors. But I try to remember: the “no” doesn’t usually mean as much as we think it will, and the “yes” will only feel good to the degree that we are fully behind our own work.

Rejection is survivable.

You, not being fully behind your own deepest dreams, to the point where you’re too afraid to ask? That’s what’s really tough. That’s not something we can get over, as easily. That’s why we need to do the (internal) work to connect with our courage and work through any fears of asking for help, or favors, endorsements, support, or camaraderie.

Let the initiation, begin.