Dear fellow humans with naturally soft voices,
I would like to start off with a story.
I was standing on my metal chair. My fingers dug into the paper grocery bag that covered my health textbook. I had wanted the nylon book covers my friends had, but my dad didn’t see the point because old, paper grocery bags accomplished the same goal.
I began reading aloud to my classmates “The Bubonic Plague killed a lot of people and ring around the rosy is actually quite creepy. Herpes will never go away. If you have ever walked past a group of employees smoking outside of Wal-Mart, you are going to die from lung cancer.” (Note: this is very likely not what the textbook said; it is merely a summary of the things I remember from 7th grade health)
“Louder!” said Mr. Ahrens.
I looked around the room at my classmates who stared up at me from their metal chairs. I started reading again.
“I still can’t hear you!”
I laughed nervously, trying to sound in unison with the laughs of my classmates. I began reading again.
“You are not speaking any louder! From now on, anytime you speak in this class, you have to stand on your chair.”
And people wonder why I still never raise my hand in class.
As you know, having a soft voice has unique challenges. Getting asked to speak up is a part of most conversations. You are also often asked “Are you okay?” because being quiet is associated with being upset. You avoid restaurants like PF Chang because of how loud it gets when plates and silverware and voices clang together.
People assume you are an avid reader and they are not wrong, but you often wonder what life would be like if people assumed other things about you. You are categorized as an introvert, but in reality, you are energized when around people. You are regularly told how shy and quiet you are. Words are powerful. Especially words that are repeated to you over and over. They start becoming a part of your identity. When I told a teacher during my junior year of high school I wanted to run for vice president of my class, she said “You are a nice girl, but no one will respect you as a leader since you are too quiet.”
While those these things seem trivial, I empathize with all of you that know these words leave a heavy weight on your shoulders. Personally, this weight has caused me to question if people actually want to listen to me and whether what I say, matters to anyone. It has even caused me to rethink my passions and wonder if I have the ability to succeed. In many ways, these thoughts and fears have caused me to speak less and even more softly.
There is often a negative connotation associated with being quiet. Awkward silence is something we try to fill. We have music playing when we drive, hike, grocery shop, spend time with friends, and cook. Having the TV on in the background when home alone, makes us not feel afraid. Women have to fight especially hard to be heard. The media creates consistent imagery of what a strong, successful woman looks like. I have never felt connected to this imagery. I strive to be like her, but fail. The media needs more Rory Gilmore.
I recently discovered how insecure I am about quietness, particularly my own. It was shortly after moving to a new city, that I found myself aching to change. I viewed being in a new city as my chance to finally be the girl I always thought was hiding inside, and now she finally found the right time to come out. I guess I saw quietness as something you grew out of.
For years, I used quietness as an excuse. There were situations I said “I prefer to sit back and listen” instead of actively engaging. This was because I did not have confidence in what my voice had to say; I had become far too comfortable with being quiet. Currently, I find myself learning to strike a balance of being both an active listener and speaker. It is not always easy, but sometimes, we need to seek comfort within discomfort. Slowly but surely, I am beginning to trust my voice.
Words are powerful. I am discovering that having a soft voice helps me be especially careful with mine. Being quiet is not something to grow out of; it is something to grow into.
Just because your voice is soft, does not mean others cannot hear you.
The girl with books covered in old, paper, grocery bags
Featured Image via Elliott Dunning