The Voices I Hear
Whether cultural mores or religious rules allow us to hug, or merely to shake hands, or
compel us to avoid touching altogether, let me say I love you while close enough to see clearly
the color of your eyes. I do not so much grow tired of talking with you by voice chat, text, or
email; I merely grow frustrated at not having that most wonderful option: speaking to you in
person, friend facing friend. I want you close to me, near enough to hear your voice without the
thinning, sharpening effect of electronics. Your voice comes as a joy to me, a deep solace,
nonetheless, no matter how it comes, even when by the silent progress of a text message
across my screen. Over time, even over great distance, I learn your voice and hear your voice
among the patterns of your texting.
I used to say, “I inherited a boot for a tongue; please forgive me if I step clumsily or kick
you accidentally.” My forthright wife has assured me, however, through years of hearing me
stumble, that I have learned; my words do not so often outpace my brain or trample someone’s
heart. Indeed, I have worked hard to refine my voice, to soften my footfall, so to speak, and
more skillfully choreograph the dance of words among my best intentions, my reasoning, and
my passion. All of this assumes that I do, in fact, have a voice, not merely a speaking voice, as
nearly everyone has, but a voice that carries some power, for better or worse, as, in fact,
everyone has. But does everyone have a voice that carries some power? Can anyone, anyone
at all, speak with power, or speak effectively to power? I will come back to those questions.
My Father’s Voice
My father could not hear my voice. I stood always at the intersection of his poor hearing
and his selective listening. Most of the time, I stood silently there, as speaking seemed rarely to
correlate with being heard. Indeed, it seemed most often that speaking on my own behalf
meant not being heard. I might sit next to him and speak directly to his ear, and he, with face
contorted by annoyed frustration, might say to my mother sitting across the room, “I can’t
hear. What is he trying to say?” In a soft voice, she would repeat my words to him. At other
times, astonishingly, he would hear a near whisper from me and accuse me of saying something
inappropriate. “I know what I heard!,” he would shout, my denials only fueling his anger.
Governments function this way, do they not? Especially those governments bent on
Voices Speaking Truth to Power
We need voices speaking truth about Power, about corrupt leaders, institutions,
corporations, and governments. Even more, however, we need voices speaking truth to Power.
Truth about Power and truth to Power are not the same. I speak truth to Power if the Power
poses a threat to me, that is, if I risk something substantial by facing that threat and speaking a
dangerous truth into the ear of Power. On a small scale, I have spoken truth to Power and lost
a job and my health as consequence. Soon after losing my job, my doctors handed me a
twofold diagnosis: viral infection of my central nervous system and multiple sclerosis (MS).
They suggested that the stress from that year of conflict contributed to the onset of both
diseases, as intense stress suppresses the immune system.
While I would rather experience again the year of physical hell that came with the viral
infection than face again the stress of fighting with corrupt leaders, I have no regrets. You
might recall the words of Cassius, from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
And why should Caesar be a tyrant then?
Poor man! I know he would not be a wolf
But that he sees the Romans are but sheep.
He were no lion were not Romans hinds.
The Voice of Love
Let me paraphrase St. Paul:
If I do not have love, I have nothing.
If I do not have love, I am nothing.
Given the absolute prominence that Paul gives to love, I think it fair to paraphrase him further
by saying that without love, there is nothing—no Goodness, no Truth, no Beauty. We practice
“speaking the truth in love,” as he says, or we speak with no good purpose and to no good
effect, even if we do indeed speak truth to Power. In saying this, I fear being misunderstood by
those who equate “love” with all things sweet, nice, pleasant, and easy. I do not make that
equation. Indeed, love compels us to speak truth to Power, to risk our welfare, our health,
even our lives. In other words, love may compel us into battle. And then love compels us to
forgive the wrongs committed against us.
I do not mean to neglect the personal face of love, that compellingly beautiful, joyful,
healing, and empowering embrace, literal or figurative, between beloved and beloved, that
face-to-face, eye-to-eye respect, compassion, and affection. Indeed, I mean to focus on that
most of all. Let me say it concisely: Wherever Power, however great or small, stands in the
way of that embrace, speak out. Fight for that. Risk your life for that.