Does every voice matter?
Does everyone deserve to be heard? The bully, the fanatic, the oppressor?
I’m still working out what I think. But perhaps the answer lies in what we can learn even from those who appear to be our opposite.
It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent. Madeleine Albright
As US Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001, Madeleine Albright became known for, among other things, brooches.
It started when she wore a serpent brooch to a meeting with the Iraq administration after it decried her as a snake.
‘On days when Albright felt she had to do “a little stinging and deliver a tough message,” she wore a wasp pin.’ (from NPR).
Albright made history as the first female US Secretary of State and played a key role during turbulent times that included the Kosovo war and sanctions against Iraq.
It should have been a coup to snag her as a graduation speaker at Scripps College in California. Yet it stirred quite the brouhaha.
Faculty and students threatened to boycott her speech, some condemning her as a ‘war criminal’ for her work in affairs of state.
Albright’s response was to invite her critics to a pre-speech meeting and then take to the stage with some astute advice.
Instead of choosing to read or to listen only to the people whose views make you the most comfortable… choose instead to study those who make you the most upset.
Instead of surrounding yourself with friends whose experiences are similar to yours, reach out to people whose life stories are unknown.
Albright’s words are a reminder that having a voice is a responsibility as well as a privilege.
If we want to contribute something worthwhile to public life, we need to stretch ourselves.
The range and quality of the input determine the originality and quality of the output.
People who regurgitate known wisdom in any field are legion.
Those who seek to understand although maybe not agree with, their critics, add tone and depth to their voice.
They are the ones we listen to and seek out.
They are the soloists among choristers.
They are the ones whose voice really does matter.