Say What You Think and See What Happens
The late poet, short story writer and feminist peace activist Grace Paley is a heroine of mine. She protested against nuclear proliferation from the 1950s until her death in 2007, and her activism ranged to include protests against the Vietnam War, human rights violations worldwide, and U.S. military intervention in Central America.
I saw her speak once, at conference for university writing programs. She was the keynote; I was extremely nervous about my role on the graduate students’ panel. My topic was sexism in our programs. This was EXTREMELY pre-#metoo, and I did not want to be pilloried, or worse, mocked, for my opinions.
In her keynote address, Paley told us that even when we feel powerless, we each have a voice. We have the responsibility to speak our mind. Sometimes nothing will happen, but sometimes change will happen in a way we could not predict.
She said, “Say what you think, and see what happens.”
The next day on the graduate students’ panel, I said what I thought. I said I thought that women’s stories were not valued in our programs, that women’s voices were not listened to, and that women were barred from a boys’ club of drinking and networking.
Then I saw what happened. Almost every head nodded, and the assembled students and professors winced as others on the panel shared their experiences. A semi-famous writer pushed back, but thoughtfully, and it was clear that he took the room’s concerns seriously.
I was afraid to say what I thought, but I did. It changed the conversation in the room. I hope it changed the conversation in a few classrooms. It gave me a new mantra. Say what you think and see what happens.
I’m not talking about standing before a bank of microphones, speaking off the cuff, and saying whatever comes into your head. I don’t even recommend an ad lib total honesty session with your family this holiday season.
But if you’re in a knotty situation, be open to the idea of saying what you really think to your team, your client, your vendor. Then wait. Listen. See what happens.