I grew up in a house in the 1960's and 70's suburbs of NY that seemed very normal to me for the most part; listen to your parents, respect your teachers, be kind. One part of my upbringing that I believed to be routine at the time was that as a girl, my needs would be taken care of by a man down the line. Don't rock the boat and all will be well. Don't be contrary. If you don't have anything kind to say, don't say it at all. For many, many years I bought into that and was content. I did marry a wonderful man, who to this day, takes care of many of my needs, and supports me with all the entreprenurial ideas I have to do good in the world, no questions asked, just as I support him. I am thankful every day for our mutually caring relationship. I have supported him through good times and bad as well over the past 36 years, and wouldn't change a thing in our lives.
What I have come to realize very recently is that those 'rules' I grew up with had a flip side, an unsaid undertone, that squelched my very essence. A tone that discouraged me from being the person I was meant to be, from having my voice heard indpendently. Ironic as is sounds, it was with my husband's encouragement and support that I found my own voice, and discovered the talents that lurked beneath a quiet surface. Let's look at these one by one...
"Don't Rock The Boat and All Will Be Well" Today, I see this as 'women can be seen but not heard.'
"Don't Be Contrary" Today, I see this as 'your opinion is not important.'
"If You Don't Have Anything Kind to Say, Don't Say it At All." Today, I hear this as "if you don't agree with me, I don't want to hear it."
So as a young woman, I was terrified to voice my opinion, I was not encouraged to have my thoughts heard. I went through my freshman and sophomore years of college taking 'incompletes' in classes that required oral reports, and ultimately dropped out, to the great disappointment of my parents. I kept my opinions and my dreams to myself for a very long time.
In the mid 1990's I had the opportunity, through my synagogue, to be part of an interfaith dialogue. This opened a world to me. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Sikh, Bahai and more interacted and grew from getting to know one another, sharing rituals and food and holidays and celebrations. Through this program I was approached to talk to a group about the experience, along with my Sikh counterpart. I said 'sure' not knowing what was ahead. I can share with you that it was an experience that changed my life, opened my heart to knowing that what I had to say mattered, was welcome and was beautiful.
At a luncheon at the Chicago Hilton, I was transformed from a quiet, sort of shy person to a person with a message of hope, connection and spirit. The group was large; 1,000 people that gathered for the Parliament of the World Religions meeting. Surinderpal, my Sikh partner, and I talked about our interactions, sharing holidays, visiting each others' temples and most importantly, getting to know one another on a personal level. Words came easily, and speaking to a crowd was a pleasure, as it was all words from the heart.
This was the beginning of my profession as a speaker, and more importantly, my beginning of validation of my worth. I didn't know it then, but as a reflect today, it is loud and clear. When you speak from your heart about any topic, you are received with love, your words are accepted as meaningful, and most of all, your opinion is respected.
With all do respect to those that raised me in a time when young women were still be encouraged to be passive and quiet, I say...We as women positively are welcome and encouraged to be seen and heard. Our opinions do matter and carry weight. Rocking the boat every now and then gets everyone out of their comfort zone, and opens the door to new ways of viewing the world, of viewing each other. It doesn't have to be nasty, it just has to be honest. I love to hear other voices, and I love to hear my own. Finally, I am satisfied that I am heard. And it is good.