Fall brings about football season. Having lived too long in the south and having graduated from a SEC school I’m acutely aware of the societal changes that go on when football season rolls around. Granted, my alma mater, University of Arkansas, tends toward the underwhelming most seasons. Regardless, Razorback fans adorned in red huddle relentlessly to cheer on the Hogs. Saturday schedules, family activities and travel plans all work around game time. Social events require no conversation, just ESPN, snacks and a fresh voice for yelling at the TV. And every Sunday you can bet on pastors mentioning their team at some point during their sermon.
Some people are greater fans than others. Example: my younger sister, the doctor, spent a year in France and the following year in Kenya. She’s such a fan of University of Arkansas football that she Skyped in for the games, having my parents set their laptop up in front of their TV so she could watch. No kidding. She did this. She’d wake at ridiculous hours of the night to tune in to the week’s game. Cheering from abroad she was more in tune to the football season than I was here in country. Note, she didn’t actually graduate from the University of Arkansas. She did attend for a year, but never even went to a football game when a student at the school. She developed her affinity for the game through the social environment around football and has grown to be an enormous fan. My sister would set up via Skype to tune in to the game from thousands of miles and several time zones away. She’d put up with all kind of inconveniences just to see and hear the game. But she never tolerate the game on mute. Who would?
My older sister would. She has two kids. When her eldest was born I was in town visiting. It was Fall in Arkansas and college football was in full force. My sister invited my parents and I over to watch the game on their big screen TV. So, we headed over to settle in. Snack food was prepared, appropriate Razorback red apparel worn and voices were ready to cheer on our team. Once there my sister and her husband made one minor note. They had put their daughter to bed so we’d be watching the game on mute. And, it’d be better if we didn’t get too excited or loud as we might wake the baby. Have you ever watched football in silence? Half clapping, no outbursts at outrageous calls by referees, cheering limited to silent standing and the waving of arms? Probably not. It’s not at all enjoyable. I have no idea if the University of Arkansas won that game. Why would I remember? It was a less than stellar experience. Silence took away the enjoyment of the whole experience. I do hope my niece slept well.
Even the most entertaining of sporting events struggles to capture my attention if it’s muted. My attention wanders, I get bored or frustrated and will likely find something else to do. What happens when you live muted? When your voice isn’t just muffled or broken up, but you’re muted? When the creativity, adventure, uniqueness, depth and wonder of your mind are stifled and withheld from the world you’re muted. Helen Keller, blind, deaf and for years unable to speak, developed a louder voice than many of us and still speaks today despite passing nearly 50 years ago. How can someone who can’t see or hear and struggled so hard for the ability to speak be less muted? Her circumstances gave her every reason to have no voice. Yet, she spoke. Many of us feel as though we’ve been muted by others or by circumstances. Parents may have been abusive, a spouse appalling, a boss domineering, a teacher demeaning, a tragedy shaming, peers relentless. We all have things that told us to be quiet. It could be isolation, pain, loss, fear, degradation, discrimination, violence, horror or any number of things. And those things matter. They matter deeply in how they impact each and every one of us. We all have our stories and they’re incredibly important, but have they muted you?
You have something to say. Shoot, I have something to say. Everything in me says to keep quiet. The story of my life involves isolation. Years and years of moving around I learned not to rock the boat and find a way to fit in. I learned to keep uniqueness quiet and hope others would someday invite me to turn up the volume. Sometimes that worked, but only sometimes. Most of the time I was left, like a silent football game, not being heard and slowly being overlooked. I was young when I developed muted living, probably 11 or 12 years old. I didn’t have the wherewithal to understand that I needed my voice and that possibly, just possibly, the world needed it too. Years later, I realize I still often react out of that awkward middle schooler quieting his uniqueness in hopes of fitting it.
Twenty years later there are still plenty of reasons not to use my voice. Instead of fitting in with the cool kids it may be about keeping a job, maintaining societal norms or fearing rocking a relational boat. The truth is, I need to make waves. You need to make waves. You need to run off a diving board with full force and hurl into the pool with the greatest splash-making cannonball you can possibly muster. The status quo is stock full of muted people. Companies design for them. Churches incubate them. Families maintain them. Society accepts them. And people go through their lives mute, hoping that in retirement they’ll find a nice little hobby to sustain their interest until death.
So, speak up! Or maybe not. Maybe just stay quiet a bit longer. There’s a quote a friend gave me years ago. I have no idea of the author as she tore it out of an old book. It reads, “If I tell you who I am, you might not like who I am, and that’s all I have”. There’s so much fear in that statement. And to be defined by it is not to live at all, but simply to survive. Survival is not enough. Yes, there are seasons where it’s the choice you have to make. Get out of debt, pay the bills, feed the kids… These are important things, but don’t limit your voice. Grow. Learn. Speak up. Step up!
There’s a great many things I have to say, where I may have a voice. I’m tired of taking jobs that bore me just because they pay what I want. I’m tired of seeing others do the same. I see myself and the masses pursuing security over life giving engagement. What if we lived differently? What if we lived into our uniqueness, talents, hopes and dreams? What if we planned and moved forward toward those dreams? What if we made progress? Maybe we’d find work we love. Maybe we’d find better versions of ourselves come alive. Maybe we’d be better spouses, parents, friends, employers, employees and just plain better people. Maybe, just maybe there’s hope for this kind of change. Hope to be fully alive and fully engaged.
None of us are stuck. We have a choice. We might as well jump into our adventure. It’s not going to get any easier. It’s time to climb up the diving board and get running full speed into a cannonball. Time to make a splash. Time to speak up. Time to speak out. Time to turn up the volume and give voice to the internal world of individual uniqueness. For me, it’s important that I embrace my drive, interests, hopes and dreams. My thoughts and my questions.
Turn up your volume. Give voice to your uniqueness, creativity, honesty, adventure, hopes, fears and dreams. Speak out against injustice. Speak up for yourself. Speak up for others. Disagree with the masses. Find a tribe that embraces your divergent thought, your creative world, your personality and your drive. Speak up! I want to hear you. The world needs your voice.