Why Loud Voices?

I’ve said part of my goal is to raise kids “with loud voices”. I want them to be engaged in the world and able to advocate for themselves and for others. But what does that mean, and why do I care?

A Little Background

When I was growing up, the family joke was that my parents raised three only children. Despite our shared genetics, we didn’t particularly look alike. We had different hobbies, followed different sports and a book recommendation from one sibling was likely to be an unfinished read for another. And it wasn’t just the kids.

Whether adult or child, we clashed right down to the fundamentals. In our family of five, we covered all side of issues ranging from evolution to trickle-down economics to gun control to worker’s rights to a woman’s place in society. The first Presidential election all three kids were old enough to vote in was Clinton/Bush. With five family members, we voted for at least four different candidates. If I had to label us politically, my family included a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian, a Socialist and an “Oh, God, please stop talking about politics.”

This is not to say that we didn’t enjoy each other. I got my love of the outdoors from both my parents, of water from my mom and skiing from my dad. I spent happy hours in the library in college, studying with my brother. We all share a love of science and real joy in learning. And we were all raised to believe that actions speak so much louder than words.

My Dad, the Not-Quite-Accidental Activist

My father was a pilot, and a good one. He was a check-pilot, making sure others were trained and capable. When I was seven, the pilots’ union went on strike, for a whole lot of legitimate reasons. He was home for a bit, and then we heard the strike was ending the next day. But, according to family folklore, union leadership then decided to renegotiate the contract. The strike was back on.

A few days later, he went back to work, crossing picket lines. I got the mail the day there was a voodoo doll in the mailbox. I answered the phone to a bomb threat made in a rumbling voice. When he was home next, my dad introduced us to Ted, who was “a friend staying with us.” He also told us to play inside for a while.

Ted was an armed guard who lived with us until the strike ended. I was seven.

This isn’t meant to be an indictment of my dad, the union, the airline or anybody else. (Except maybe the guy who made a bomb threat to a seven-year-old. You sir, have issues.) To this day, I don’t know the exact sequence of negotiations from that strike. I do know that my dad showed he was a person who put principle first, even if it was unpopular or uncomfortable to do so. This is the common thread passed on to his children, despite our conflicting views on just about everything else.

So What Does That Look To Me?

A loud voice is different than a brash voice. It’s easy to get caught up in the screaming, to call names but scrimp on solutions. I believe as strongly as anyone in the causes that matter, in my case kindness and tolerance, freedom of speech and religion and a country free from bigotry. However, it’s not as easy to dismiss half a country, when that half includes multiple members of my own family. Yes, I disagree. Yes, I will fight to the end for what I believe. But I don’t get to call (part of) my family stupid and believe that’s the end of it.

Fighting for what I believe requires understanding the issues I am fighting for. Because I don’t get to dismiss people and their arguments out of hand, I have to listen to the multiple sides of an issue. Believe me, it makes me crazy sometimes! But it also makes me more aware and better versed on an issue, which hopefully leads to sustainable change. Barring people spewing hatred, listening to an opposing view is not complicity.

I learned from my dad that it takes a little courage, or maybe a lot of stubborn, to stand up for your principles. It will be uncomfortable. Using your voice to effect change is rarely simple or short. It takes individual people making a decision that there is a line that cannot be crossed (or maybe, in my dad’s case, one he had to cross). It takes walking up to that line, and staying there, even if people put voodoo dolls in your mailbox. It takes determination to change a country.

My kids are tweens, in the midst of finding their voices. I find myself in the unique position of redefining my own voice. I think my kids and I would have gotten here eventually, but the twin catalysts of my health and this election have given us a good shove down this path. My plan is to choose my line, listen well and then act with as much conviction or sheer pig-headedness as I am able. I hope my kids join me. Even if they don’t, I hope they learn to think, listen and act for themselves.

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