Imagine the following…
How would you like to be told that your silence is valued more than your voice? Can you imagine spending your formative years being surrounded by the idea of ‘silence is respect’? How about learning meant memorization instead of questioning and having an opinion? What if you grew up in a culture where speaking up was suppressed because it was considered a challenge to the authority?
A Script from the Past
“Who would like to nominate a student to be our next class president for this school term?” the teacher opened up the floor to a roomful of forty 4th graders to ‘democratically’ elect their class leader. Some time went by. Silence. Finally, a brave soul raised her hand, said sheepishly, ” Ms. Lee, in the past we only selected model students for this role. How about this time we give the responsibility to those who are not as academically achieved, to give them the opportunity to build up their confidence and show up as leaders as well?”
Not a sound from anything, anyone, anywhere.
The shock and disbelief on Ms. Lee’s face said it all. She stood there astonished, confused, and struggled as to how to respond to the comment. Meanwhile, the long pause of dead air continued to dampen the mood until crackles of whispers broken the uncomfortable silence.
“Who else would like to make a nomination?” continued Ms. Lee as she looked away from that courageous girl who spoke her mind, completely disregarding the suggestion. Full of embarrassment, shame, and feeling extremely vulnerable, the girl buried that outspoken part of her deep into her psyche all through her childhood and much into her adult life. This hard lesson served her well in the high-context Chinese culture, and it was not until she started treading the water of the Land of the Free did she realize speaking up, or simply speaking, is the ‘Tao of Identity” in the Western world.
By now, you would have guessed it was a story of my past. In truth, the memory of that day had been locked in the vault for more than three decades. It was the journey to coaching, and now supervision, that once again sparked an inquiry into the meaning of speaking up. I am not defined by my story, and as a seeker of another version of the truth, I embarked onto a quest to look at the broader system of my upbringing culturally to shed lights on how it has had a profound impact on my speaking (speaking up) as a coach and a supervisor.