“ Nothing that I can do will change the structure of the universe. But maybe, by raising my voice I can help the greatest of all causes—goodwill among men and peace on earth.” ~ Albert Einstein
It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like to be Albert Einstein, to discover a theory that would change our understanding of the Universe, to have devoted so much of his life to making a discovery that would be valued by scientists and textbooks forever. Knowing his accomplishments makes his words all the more meaningful for me. If he who discovered the Theory of Relativity recognized the influence raising his voice might be, then surely I (and you) can raise my voice to help the greatest of all causes that I see in the world. My greatest theoretical discovery might be the Theory of Multiplying Items in a Kitchen Drawer, but my voice…my voice is just as capable of being raised for good as his was. If I really want to be a better person than I was yesterday, I think it’s time to consider what I’m doing with this voice of mine. What about you?
Most everyone has a voice, “the sound produced in a person’s larynx and uttered through the mouth, as speech or song.” Depending on where you live, you might be afraid to use your voice to do more than speak when given permission. The voice, though, can be a powerful tool.
Think about the different situations surrounding the ability to have a voice:
- Freedom of Speech. If you are reading this thinking something along the lines of “I can say whatever I want whenever I want,” you are probably living in a country that values the input of many to create a more unified place, and at the very least to honor what would seem to be a basic human right. It might surprise you to know that not every country allows its residents to speak freely. In some countries, entire ethnic groups are held in concentration camps even today with no rights to speak their voice. In other countries, polite conversation is allowed, but opinions about the government are not tolerated.
- Understanding the Language. Running into a young woman who teaches ESL (English as a Second Language) where I live, she shared how restricted her students feel by neither understanding nor speaking the local language. If you’ve ever been in a place of business where the employees are speaking to each other in their native tongue (not English), you have had a small taste of the inability to communicate, to have a voice, that foreigners feel.
- Persecution. Living in a country that allows free speech doesn’t mean you are always allowed to use your voice. Parents, spouses, bosses, teachers all can create a mini-government where their voice is the only one that matters. Afraid of upsetting anyone, lots of us remain quiet and suffer in silence wishing we could be express ourselves fully.
We can’t easily change the way a country governs, but we can sign up for a class to learn the local language, and we can look to examples of people who found their voice so that they could speak out.
Rosa Parks (USA) used her voice to say ‘enough’; a 42-year old black woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus because a white person needed a seat (the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955) She received national recognition for her work as a Civil Rights leader.
Malala Yousafzai (Pakistan) has used her voice to fight for the right of girls to receive an education. Was shot by the Taliban, survived, and was a co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize (the youngest recipient ever, only 17).
Kailash Satyarthi (India) has used his voice to fight to end child slavery and abusive child labor. He was a co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize (age 60).
Aung San Suu Kyi (Burma/Myanmar) has used her voice to fight for democracy in Burma, as protesters were being killed. Placed under house arrest for 15 out of 21 years, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 (age 54) and received it 21 years later. Has now been elected the leader of the country, yet has chosen to ignore Muslim concentration camps still in existence there.
We can look at our own situation and decide that we have the right to speak out when things are not being handled as they should be, no matter how small or large. When you order dinner and don’t get what you paid for, you have a right to speak up. When you belong to a group you have a right to use your voice to request that rules be followed or people be treated fairly.
I live in a country that affords its citizens the right to use their voices through votes in elections. Instead of belittling others behind the safety of the computer screen on social media, why not use your voice to help others know why you stand behind the candidate you do? Instead of using your voice to put others down, why don’t you use your voice to build someone up? Instead of using your voice to condemn someone else’s religious beliefs, use your voice to educate about your own beliefs. I’ve learned that our voices must even be loud at times, but most importantly we must speak.
Removing the rose-colored glasses I’m often told I wear, I see a world full of people who are afraid to speak because they feel threatened, and I see people who won’t allow others’ voices to be heard for fear of losing power. You are welcome to say I’m naive to think it could happen, but I’m going to keep believing that one at a time, people will raise their voices to bring goodwill among men and peace on earth.