Even as a child, I knew that Ariel was doomed without her voice. Prince Eric couldn’t even recognize her. Voiceless, she was just a pretty airhead with shampoo commercial hair and a bangin’ body. She was skim milk—a faint shadow of her true self.
However, what blows my mind is how a lesson so blatantly obvious to me as a child is completely lost on me as an adult...
How often: I’ve traded my voice for the metaphorical feet of “security”; I’ve busied myself with mundane rituals to “fit in” with my peers; I’ve downsized my dreams for perceived happiness.
Look, this is exactly the sort of feeling I had in my gut when I at last chose "authority" as my word for 2013. It was the sinking realization that somehow I had traded in my voice and my ability to participate in my own life, all for the prize of...what? Smooth sailing? Avoiding conflict? Achieving a glittery and pretty sort of success?
It was important for me to learn some lessons about how to navigate through life as an opinionated, passionate person with a penchant for sarcasm. I accidentally hurt people on too many occasions, and about four years ago, I began to ask how I could be more gentle in the midst of my passions. I've had a long season of pondering what it means to be quiet, to truly listen to people with whom I disagreed, to integrate humility and gentleness so that I didn't bulldoze over real, precious people with my opinions or speeches. I'm still thinking about these things, asking these sort of questions on my quest to be kind.
At some point, I think a line was crossed (do we ever know when or how exactly? It's usually slow melding of seasons for me). The lesson stopped being about gentleness or listening, and became a dreaded exercise in fear and loss of self-confidence. If you say nothing, you can blend in. There is security in not entering the fray. Social media abuse in the name of political/theological/etc. makes me sick to my stomach--so saying nothing is better, right? And if I declare I'm "about" or "for" this thing, that means I'm saying no to other things, aren't I? And I don't know that I'm ready to choose what I'm about, because college was a time of deconstruction, and what if I choose something and then change my mind later? Wouldn't that be embarrassing?
Essentially, Ariel: give up your voice. Sarah: Fit in. Don't risk anything. Choose the safe route.
This is why it is so crucial that I find my voice again, that I risk identifying myself with things I care about or believe in. I don't think I'll be leaping into long, petty Internet debates, or even many face-to-face debates, because debates don't usually change anyone's mind or invite anyone to see things from a different perspective. I'm not picking fights or even looking for opportunities to make definitive statements to "challenge" or "inspire" others. In many ways, my theology and my mindset are still in a formative state. I'm still deciding what I think. You probably are, too.
But I don't think I can wait to say something until I've made my final decision, world without end, amen. I think I have to be authentic and vulnerable with loved ones right in the middle of the process, or else I'll never say anything at all until I'm dead. We must be wise about when to speak up, when to head out into the fray, and when to stand wisely back. Having a voice doesn't mean using it all the time. Using your voice requires wisdom and discernment, usually gained from experience (sadly).
I have to take back my voice, and that involves risk, embarrassment, disagreement. Offering one's opinion with gentleness doesn't guarentee everyone will be gentle or kind back. Aligning one's self with certain ways of thinking or being might disappoint, offend, or weird out others. Certainly, there is risk.
But what is Ariel without her voice?